Ah yes. Spring. The season of new life, soft breezes, tiny leaves unfurling, lambs gambolling in the greening fields. Where, oh where, might I find this kind of spring, my friends? Not here. Here it’s windy and cold. In fact, although it’s sunny today, it’s only eight degrees and the river is running backwards against the current because the wind is so strong. Upstream doesn’t mean a thing this time of year. Even the geese and ducks are confused, so they all buggered off to a field somewhere. Still “mustn’t grumble,” as Inspector Thursday is so fond of saying in Endeavour, one of our favourite mystery series.
I know I mustn’t grumble, but I do. Even though there are some signs of spring. The grass has begun to turn green, and some of our spring flowers are blooming. The ones we planted, and the other ones we love to see pop up wherever they can. There’s a patch of wild purple and white violets on some muddy ground under a tree on the edge of our property. And then there are these sweeties.
Hubby has been itching to get into his garden. He overwintered dahlias and geraniums and they are now coming along nicely in pots in our sun room. He’s tilled the garden and even begun to plant his peas. But the rest of the gardening will begin once the weather is warmer and we buy our bedding plants.
Hubby’s current approach to gardening is a change from the old days when he grew everything from seed. He started in the winter, with seeds planted in our basement under lights, then tiny seedlings moved up to the sun room or out to his homemade greenhouse which was equipped with lights and even a heater.
Then of course he would go away for his first fishing trip of the year. Five days in the first week of May when he and his buddies paddled and portaged their canoes, slept on the ground, and fished their little hearts out, battling cold and wind and a couple of times even snow. Fine for them to have all the fun, I thought. I was stuck at home taking care of Hubby’s fragile plants, and knowing that if I killed them I’d be in big trouble.
I’m serious. I had an instruction list as long as my arm which I followed to the letter. At what temperature to open the greenhouse, when to close it and put on the lights at night, when to turn on the heater. How to know if I needed to water. I told you, didn’t I, that I am not a natural gardener? And most importantly the admonition that I needed to keep an eye not only on the weather, but also on the temperatures inside the greenhouse. Because on a sunny day, even if it was still cool, the sun could fry all those precious green things.
I was assiduous in my gentle care of those darned plants. I checked the weather multiple times a day, checked the temperature in the greenhouse. Stuck my fingers in pots. Opened and closed the greenhouse. Fretted. I tell you, the stress was huge.
I still shiver over the memory of the year when everything had been going swimmingly, and on Saturday evening I carefully closed up the greenhouse and went to stay at my sister’s for the night. I’d be home in lots of time in the morning. But we lingered over tea and toast on Sunday morning, and I didn’t leave her house until almost 11:00. I was halfway home when I realized that I’d forgotten about the plants. And all during that sunny, warm morning Hubby’s precious plants had been locked in the probably-by-now-sweltering greenhouse. Gad. I put my foot down. I cannot believe that I didn’t get a speeding ticket. When I arrived home, the spindly seedlings were flopped over the edges of their pots, looking forlorn. I opened the greenhouse, gave the plants some water. And prayed. Oh, how I prayed.
But by the next day, the day of Hubby’s homecoming, the plants had recovered. I decided that I would not confess my incompetence to him. Of course the minute he got out of the truck, grinning, face tanned and wind- burnt, brandishing his catch… I did just that. He laughed. “Don’t worry, Suz. Those plants are much hardier than you think.”
What!? For a couple of minutes anger followed relief. Did he not know how literally I’d taken the myriad of instructions? How I’d fretted, making multiple trips to the greenhouse all day, even at night to see if it was cold enough to turn on the light, or the heater? Risked life and limb to get home to rescue them from sunstroke? Oh, the drama. I tell you I used to dread those spring fishing trips of his.
I’m happy that spring is less fraught these days. Or relatively less fraught. Ha. I mean, it did snow the day after I turned my closet. But other than wishing it would warm up, I’ve not much to grumble about. I’ve been reading some wonderful books. That was what I started to write about when I sat down this morning, but I was sidetracked by spring.
I reread Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac while I was in New Brunswick visiting my mum. I’d forgotten how much I love that book. But I wrote all about it in my last book post so I won’t go on. And while I was at home, and because I was reading Brookner, I decided to listen again to Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women on Audible. I cannot say how much I love to listen to my favourite books after I’ve read them. Especially if the narrator is good. And Jane Entwistle is a wonderful narrator. I always find that listening to someone else read a favourite book, and read it well, highlights bits of the book I have overlooked. Entwistle obviously “gets” Barbara Pym, and thus we see (or hear) more clearly Pym’s gentle humour.
Then I devoured the novel Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. I simply loved it. Given my avoidance of depressing books lately and the fact that Sorrow and Bliss is primarily about depression and mental illness, this is surprising to me. But it’s one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time. Sorrow and Bliss is filled with chaos, love, sadness, small unspeakable cruelties, great kindness, chirpy remarks, witty texts and emojis between Martha, the main character, and her sister Ingrid, relationship breakdown, relationship rebuilding, and so many funny and touching moments that I cannot even begin to describe. You just have to read it yourself.
Sorrow and Bliss reminded me at times of Sylvia’s Plath’s The Bell Jar in its unflinching treatment of mental illness, and of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love in its witty depiction of love and hate and chaos in a family. I originally signed it out of the library, but then I ordered my own copy of the book so I can dip into it again and again whenever I want.
I began this post on Friday morning. It’s now early Saturday evening. Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. But I have a few minutes before dinner to try to finish this post.
I take back everything I said yesterday about spring. All my grumbling. Today dawned sunny and warm… with no wind. I spent the afternoon with old friends in the backyard of another old friend celebrating her 80th birthday. Vera and I taught together back in the eighties when I was just starting my career. Vera is Ukrainian and her party kicked off with a traditional Ukrainian vodka toast. I admit that I was unable to toss my drink back in one go like Vera. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll be able to do that. Ha. Then we ate and yakked all afternoon in the sunshine. Vera makes the best perogies. I won’t reveal how many I ate. It was a wonderful afternoon. And so good to see many people with whom I started my career, and who have over the years begun to feel like family.
The downside to all this toasting and fun is I did not have time to finish my blog post. And I did want to tell you about the other book I devoured in the last week. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. Donoghue’s book is set in Dublin during the 1918 flu pandemic. Thus many elements of the setting seem eerily familiar: “As far as I could tell, the whole world was a machine grinding to a halt. Across the globe, in hundreds of languages, signs were going up urging people to cover their coughs.”
Much of the plot takes place in a hospital in Dublin, in a tiny, hastily constructed maternity ward for flu patients who are about to give birth. Julia, the main character works there as a nurse and midwife. Donoghue does not pull any punches in her description of the cruel fate of many, many women in Dublin at the time. Women, as Wendy Smith says in her review in The Washington Post, “whose lives are scarred by poverty and too many pregnancies in a society that proclaims “She doesn’t love him unless she gives him twelve.”
Donoghue touches on many themes in her novel. Perhaps too many in my opinion: women’s rights, women’s health issues, Irish nationalism, poverty, the control of the church over the poor, homosexuality. But the enormous strain that the flu pandemic puts on hospitals struggling to provide good health care to poor women would have been enough, I think. Somehow she dilutes the importance of the other issues by trying to do too much in her novel.
Still, I could not put his book down. Donoghue’s depiction of a few short, but frenetic, exhausting, and ultimately tragic days in the Women’s Maternity/Fever Ward is gripping. And even though I think this is basically a flawed book, I’d still recommend it.
Back in the real, non-fiction world, our lovely next door neighbours have just had their first child. A sweet little boy, born today. And it felt very odd to be waiting for news of the new next-door baby, and at the same time reading Emma Donoghue’s book, with all its gritty, visceral detail of the travails of giving birth in 1918. Really, The Pull of the Stars is worth a read if only to make us grateful that times have changed.
So that’s what I’ve been doing this past week, my friends. Reading, waiting for spring. Waiting for that new baby. And it seems as if mother nature has delivered on several counts today. So I guess I will have to stop grumbling.
P.S.. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will make a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.