It's Just-Spring

Basking in spring sun

It's been a slow spring here on the Manitoba prairies.  Rainy, windy, cool.  And yet ... the light grows stronger, the days grow longer and buds are bursting.

The cat chills in the warm rays, while the dog focuses on muddy smells.  I put gangly geraniums back outdoors to let them recover from an indoor winter and maybe compete with the show-off dandelions. 

Bug-wise,  I've only had three wood ticks so far this season and I managed to rescue a bumble bee that bumbled into the house by mistake. I also found the  ladybugs cozy winter hideout amongst last season's leaves. 

Happy Spring!

Nature keeps cycling

Bee recharging in the sun after near-death experience

Back in 2004

Heimtal, Ukraine, 2004

It's been twenty Mays since I've been to Ukraine searching for my mom's home village.  Back in 2004, Federofka (now called Kaliniwka) was a broken village with a difficult past and an equally difficult future. It was part of a countryside littered with forgotten kulak windmills, sunken graveyards, homemade distilleries, and dilapidated homes. BUT ... it had a skyline brightened by industrious storks soaring above, nesting on broken chimneys or hydro poles as they cared for their young.  Spring was full of hope, with lilac, chestnut and linden blossoms sweetening the air and promising honeybees a sweet crop.

Former collective in Ukraine, 2004

It was less spring-like in the nearby city of Zhytomyr were I got to peruse secret police files and discovered the reasons for the human suffering in the countryside. There was a Victory Day parade rehearsal happening just as our small group was wandering through a public square.  It was eerie, back in 2004, as World War Two tanks rumbled past us, old Soviet military music blaring and ominous government vehicles encircling the parade staging area.  Twenty Mays later and the rehearsals are over. 

Soviet-era tank monument in Zhytomyr, 2004 

Spring, 2024. Ukraine is fighting for its life. Are the storks still able to nest? Is nature finding its way through the madness of war? Or are the red granite stones of the former Federofka turning a deeper red? 

Peace to Ukraine. Peace to the storks, to the soil, and to the people. 

Red stone marking base of my grandfather's windmill,
former Federofka, 2004

Beech Trees and Book Woods

Beech trees along Baltic

The trees are awakening here on the prairies and like every spring, I marvel at their magic.
Jane Gifford’s The Wisdom of Trees: Mysteries, Magic and Medicine came out back in 2000.  One section tells about the beech tree. I’ve not encountered beech trees here in Manitoba. Maybe our prairie winters are too severe. 

Maybe that’s why I noticed them when cycling along the Baltic back in 2019. Beech forests are found throughout Europe.  I welcomed their cooling shade after yet another sloping hill turned steeper than our intrepid leader promised. It was in the towering, gloomy beech woods that I tried to imagine the Second World War refugees hiding from their enemies.

Buchenwald, meaning 'beech woods', has become synonymous with the Buchenwald Concentration camp, about ten kilometers northwest of Weimar. Once known for its beech trees, almost 250,000 people were brutalized by the Nazis in that beech tree prison. 

Shade in my Garden
But the beech tree has more positive associations. Beech tree seeds, or nuts, were used during hard times to create ‘ersatz kaffee’ and even used as a tobacco substitute. Beech tree oil and butter is a common by-product and beech wood is favoured for carving wooden spoons and other household utensils. 

But the most interesting thing about beech trees—for a book-lover—is that the word, beech, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word boc, which became the German word Buch. Buch became buchstabe, meaning letter of the alphabet.  So once Buchenwald was not a place of horror. Once a Buchenwald was a forest of books. A library.  Before modern paper production, beech wood could be used for early writing tablets. And, as Gifford points out, beech tree are great for carving lovers' initials.

Even if I can’t grow beech trees in my garden, I’m still appreciating their impact. Like Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Part of my home library


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It's Just-Spring

Basking in spring sun It's been a slow spring here on the Manitoba prairies.  Rainy, windy, cool.  And yet ... the light grows stronger,...