Mornings at the Little House are, for the most part, lazy. On waking, I wander into the kitchen where coffee is waiting. Dan is a morning person and up with the sun so the coffee is always ready. I head to the dining room table. He asks what I’d like for breakfast. The usual, I say. More coffee, toasted Finnish coffee bread, cereal, juice. It takes me awhile to come fully awake.
I’m sitting at the table gazing out the window. It occurs to me that one of the joys of this phase of my life is having the time to do nothing but stare out a window and see where my mind takes me. When I was raising a family and working full time, this wasn’t an option.
I am focussed on the bird feeder and the dance of the birds that spin about it. The fat round chickadees seem to take turns; one swoops in while another takes off. Switch. The small brown redpolls with their little red heads are more cautious. They seem content to pick up whatever gets dropped onto the deck, occasionally braving the feeder when the chickadees have flown off but quick to vacate when the chicks are back. There’s a woodpecker who drops by periodically. When he’s not drilling on our eaves troughs, that is. And a couple of blue jays who are little too big but engage in acrobatics that have them hanging upside down from the feeder. A newcomer arrived today: a rose breasted grosbeak. He was very shy, peaking around from the far side of the feeder. And then there are the squirrels and chipmunks who, like the redpolls, gather up the seeds that have fallen to the deck and the ground. So much activity. So much life.
Beyond the birds is the forest. Twelve acres for which we are custodians. It’s windy today and the trees are swaying in time to their own rhythm. Up close are the birch just beginning to bud interspersed with spruce, tall and magnificent. Behind them are the yellow tamaracks, waving more vigorously. We cut back these woods every year around the back yard. Left to their own devices, it wouldn’t be long before they reclaimed the bit of cleared land for the yard and house. On dark, stormy days, it sometimes seems as if they are moving forward, ready to take back what was theirs. We are temporary visitors in the scheme of things.
The forest is coming alive now and green is pushing up everywhere. There are lots of animal tracks along the trails which are still soggy from snow melt – deer, rabbit, even signs of a wolf. (I am only just beginning to learn the different tracks. Our neighbour points them out when we walk.) There is much evidence of the winter ice storms still: lots of deadfall, trees snapped here and there, branches still bowed. Yet renewal is well underway.
When we walk the trails, we rarely see the animals who live in the forest but we know they’re there. There is an intensity of sound and smell. The damp earth, the trees, the wet leaves from last fall. Tiny white wildflowers and bright yellow ones. The woods are full of birds chirping and squirrels chasing each other through the trees. Things we can’t see rustle in the brush. I feel more alive here than in the city. More real.
There are forest fires right now burning out of control in Northern Ontario. They’re still a long way away from us but watching the speed of destruction in Fort MacMurray, I worry. There have been summers when I visited my mom before we bought the Little House when the fires were much closer, when you could smell the burn, taste the smoke in the air. It brings home to me how fortunate I am to have this place, to be able to experience the land to the fullest. And how precious it is, how quickly it can be lost.
The birds have darted away for the moment, off in the trees that surround the house. I know they’ll be back. And I am content to wait, grateful for this time, grateful to be waking up.