Through the looking glass: Colour me happy

Growing up in Newfoundland I came to appreciate, and unbeknownst to me, depend on the natural colourful landscape of broad leaved maples splattered across the hills. My first Autumn season in Alberta left me pathetically pining for the beautiful palette of the east coast. In an effort to duplicate some of the comfort colours of the coast, I have lovingly planted several evergreens and a few leafy trees all around the property. I have also ground my teeth while pulling out their dead twiggy remains sometime later. It seemed an effort in futility at best.

A few years ago we took on the monumental task of driving across the country in a converted Edmonton City Transit bus. We packed four kids, three Newfoundland dogs and enough food for approximately three days into our bus and drove to the eastern most point of our country: Signal Hill, St. John’s, Newfoundland. The trip was amazing and provided me the opportunity to visit my grandparents’ property; unfortunately my grandparents had passed on several years before. As a child and young adult I was very close to them and in an endeavour to stay close to my roots, as close as possible while living four thousand miles away, I dug up a few maple trees from their garden, lovingly placed them in bags and proudly tucked them into a safe place on our bus to bring them back to Alberta and grow in my yard. Visions of grandeur danced lovingly in my head as I fantasized about the vivid colors each young tree would provide. My world, I felt, was complete.

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Of course, as anyone who’s ever travelled to the magnificent island of Newfoundland is painfully aware, the only way on or off the island is by Ferry. And this Ferry had regulations and security to rival CSIS! Warily I watched the woman in uniform scan the vehicles. I tried to look inconspicuous, but the mere appearance of the transit bus made that somewhat futile. Settling on our bus she proceeded towards us. My heart sank. I mustered my best smile and was greeted with “please step out of the vehicle.”  My growl was ignored.

The children and I leashed the dogs and exited the bus. I sent a silent prayer that she wouldn’t look in the bathroom where I had placed my treasures each in their own pots with plastic draped across to protect the soil. The soil which was not allowed out of Newfoundland. After several heart pounding moments, she stepped off the bus carrying a garbage bag that looked ominously similar to the covering I had over my trees. Turning my stare back to the door of our bus, my husband met me with an ‘I’m so sorry’ kind of face. “I did the best I could.” He offered. Guiding my stare back to the bathroom I stumbled around the door. Falling to my knees, hands shaking, I reached out to touch the broken stem of one of the trees. “I didn’t have anything decent to cut the roots off with but she said we could keep the trees if we cut off the roots.” His words barely penetrated through my haze. My dreams of a red and orange Autumn were lost.

A couple of years later I was blessed to be able to relocate my parents to Alberta. Presented with a new opportunity, this time I decided to be smarter. I would sneer with satisfaction at the Ferry ‘border’. I cut branches and placed them in wet paper towels with root starter and then wrapped a plastic bag around them. After piling the trunk full of as many of my parents’ life’s possessions as possible, I carefully placed my second chance in amongst the piles. With renewed hopes and dreams I confidently drove up to the Ferry gates, lifted my chin and caught the gaze of the uniformed woman. She smiled and waved us through. My mouth fell open. Mom stifled a giggle. I’m pretty sure I grumbled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

When we stopped at my sister’s in Nova Scotia, her husband thought my heart wrenching story inspiring and helped me dig up a couple of Nova Scotia maples and an oak. We drove them across the country and found a safe spot in the yard to plant them.  Sadly, the Newfoundland cuttings died pretty quickly. I wasn’t sure about the rooted trees. All winter I tried to keep them safe from shovels, snow blowers and dogs. In the spring the tractor and backhoe got a little close but I was able to divert them with rocks and sticks. I placed tomato cages around them in a vain attempt to provide them some refuge. Apparently you can’t see tomato cages very well from a CAT. Who knew?

Having given up completely, I went out that spring and prepared to pull my little twigs out of the ground. As I crouched and petted one for the last time, something colorful, if not painfully small, caught my eye. Way down at the bottom of my little two-foot twig was a tiny three-inch high maple tree. Can you call it a tree at that size? The important thing here is that it had two little tiny leaves on it! I couldn’t believe it! I raced over to the other tree, and sure enough, there are teeny tiny buds emerging! I walked slowly to the oak, (as I’d tripped getting to the second maple and skinned my knee) and found a little bud creeping out of the end of one branch on that one as well. The heavens opened and the angels sang. There was something good in this world after all. My mother, ever the optimist, contributed their sudden sprouting nature to all the rain we’d had and if I “really want these to grow [I’ll] have to be out there watering them once or twice a week for the rest of their lives.” I scoffed.

The next spring, I pulled the lifeless, dried out twigs out of the ground. That Autumn I planted several Tamaracks and an Amur Maple (Alberta’s much smaller maple). One way or another, I will have colour dammit!

Moral of the story? Even in the midst of death and sorrow, one can always find a little beauty and solace, even if you have to scream obscenities at it and water it vigorously!

Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune. Follow her on Twitter here.

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