One could do worse*

The birches stood like candles flung out a car window between two muddy fallow fields. I pulled off the road, watching the fog spool around the trunks while they stood cool and wet and quiet. They glowed, almost like snow.

I stepped out of the car; my feet crunched on the crushed gravel, and I inhaled, feeling that gills would have been useful. Beads of mist clung to black branches of low scrub and droplets elongated like the tick of the clock at midnight on Christmas Eve.

The ground was matted with dead milkweed, bracken, thistles, and flattened grass, and littered with garbage. Exploded grocery bags, roadside garbage bombs of tin cans, plastic pop bottles, Styrofoam meat trays, shells of expensive coffee store cups, emptied ashtrays, condoms, beer cans, and liquor bottles. A trashy roadside party watched over by votive birches.

On December’s darkest day I stood among the litter and trees remembering snow. I wanted its whitewash to clean the woods. I wanted it’s light. I wanted wet replaced with sub-zero temperatures and squeaky clean snow. It’s what I expect after thirty-six white Ontario Christmases. Unexpectedly, they have felted my memories of green, dank west coast Christmases past. Christmases where dripping rubber boots and raincoats made puddles in the hallway; where socks were always wet; where we watched the news about those poor snowed-in easterners digging snow tunnels from their front doors to their cars; where Christmas lights were always haloed in mist; where snow melted before it hit the ground; where we left a note for Santa on the hearth asking him to please wipe his muddy boots before coming inside; where Rudolph’s nose was always needed.

Standing among the birches I shivered without the white blanket I’ve come to expect – the one that makes Christmas glisten. Still, the trees drew my eyes in. Those black nicks in their bark, what are they? Growth marks like the lines penciled on our kitchen wall? Regardless, they made the white trunks brighter – made me think this green Christmas a just a different kind of white Christmas. And that’s okay.

*From Birches, by Robert Frost



21 thoughts on “One could do worse*

  1. derrickjknight December 24, 2015 / 9:39 am

    Beautifully written Sue. Frost would have been pleased with you.


    • Susanne December 25, 2015 / 12:21 pm

      Aww. Thank you, Derrick. Wish there was some frost to go with the Frost.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dawnkinster December 24, 2015 / 11:00 am

    I was walking among birches yesterday myself. Beautifully done.


    • Susanne December 24, 2015 / 6:33 pm

      So strange to have a green Christmas but the birches cheered me in a perverse way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. jbbluesman December 24, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    Elongated like the tick of the clock on Christmas eve….( ; from Christmas past


    • Susanne December 24, 2015 / 6:33 pm

      Oh yes. Christmas Eve seemed to last forever!


  4. hilarycustancegreen December 24, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    Wonderful descriptions. I, too, wish perversely for some cold. I worry about the bluebells and crocus pushing up ready to bloom. It is still, as you point out, Christmas.


    • Susanne December 24, 2015 / 6:32 pm

      There are still some confused birds hanging around maybe wondering if it’s worth the bother of the trip south when spring will be here so soon.


  5. Cynthia Jobin December 24, 2015 / 6:40 pm

    So rich with imagery and so full of simile and metaphor that I am taken aback and want to be able to rest for awhile, more simply, on the very best ones ,and say: there’s no need for more, enjoy, enjoy….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 25, 2015 / 12:26 pm

      I had to dig a little bit, Cynthia, but I think you’re paraphrasing Kerouac here. What a gorgeous find on Christmas morning. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 25, 2015 / 12:20 pm

      Green with envy in Ottawa.


  6. Lisa @ cheergerm December 27, 2015 / 5:10 am

    Green Christmases are how we roll here. Found your description of your Ottawa Christmas memories quite transporting.


    • Susanne December 27, 2015 / 9:00 am

      We have a nasty brew of weather this morning – snow, freezing rain, and now rain. Soon to be green again. Truly, I much prefer the snow to the drab slates and mud colours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 29, 2015 / 9:13 am

      I was glad to be alone in the car that morning after dropping my daughter at a friend’s house so I could stand there and take it all in. We’re having a damn good snowstorm today – our first of the season – and I imagine the woods will look very different. Once the roads are clear I may go back and have a look.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ellen Morris Prewitt December 28, 2015 / 7:57 pm

    Last night, I stood in the parking lot of our loft with my neck craned, scanning the New Orleans night sky, the thin clouds moving so quickly it seemed like time-elapsed photography and me trying to explain to my husband how strange it was, how clearly it said to me, “You are near the end of the world.” We are—the Louisiana wetlands are some of the most-recently formed land on this planet. I did a terrible job trying to say what I was feeling. You have done a wonderful job of conveying this brief roadside stop. Thank you.


    • Susanne December 29, 2015 / 9:41 am

      How I envy you your New Orleans night sky! I just finished a mystery by James Lee Burke called “Purple Cane Road” set in Louisiana in and around New Orleans. His descriptions of bayous and teches and swamps, the Atchafalaya River basin, stormy autumn skies put me right there as did your image of the sky.


      • Ellen Morris Prewitt December 29, 2015 / 9:57 am

        I do love James Lee Burke. I believe I’ve read everything he’s written. My handyman is a Burke fan, too, and we await each new novel, discuss its particulars after we’ve read it. His descriptions are so lush yet always integral to the telling, just like yours 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne December 29, 2015 / 12:11 pm

        Thanks so much for the compliment! It will keep me warm on today while our first doozie of a snowstorm blows through the province.I haven’t worked my way through all Burke’s books, yet. Far and away my favourite is Rain Gods which I can open to almost any page and get lost in again. So much of his descriptive prose reads like poetry.


  8. exiledprospero January 7, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    Kudos. This piece is excellent.


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