Thursday, April 26, 2018

Rosa Rugosa

We ripped a good portion of the wild rose hedge out when we first moved in, much to the dismay of this house’s former owner. The Rosa rugosa had hugged the inside curve of the driveway before arcing around the back of the garden wall in a tangle of thorns and flowers, separating a cultivated perennial bed from the wilder field beyond. But we were transforming part of that front field to mown grass, the better to hold the venue tent for our upcoming wedding.

We spent countless hours that spring and summer reconfiguring the garden, and anytime we got within a foot of the slate wall we’d find roots from the rugosa, looking to spread if we’d only let it. Thirteen years later it seems to have settled in to the space we’ve allowed it – a wide swath remaining along that bend of the driveway, stretching for about 30 yards before stopping to leave room for the lawnmower to pass between its thorny branches and the garden wall.

From the side window of my childhood bedroom, I could look out at other roses: a mostly tidy jumble of antique rose bushes at the edge of the yard. In my mind, they are a mix of bright and more subdued hues and smell heavenly – like summer embodied: sweet, hot, ephemeral.

The roses in our yard now are not so refined, but just as lovely. The wide hedge is its own little wilderness, and within its realm are all sorts of wonders.

In Fall, the leaves of the Rosa rugosa are the last to drop. Long after the bright maple and yellow birch leaves have sifted to the ground, when even the tamaracks have dropped their needles, the rose hedge’s rusty leaves finally drift downward.

The naked brambles reveal birds’ nests tucked deep within. Through spring and summer and into fall, the birds maneuver deftly through the twiggy branches, disappearing within to build nests of sticks and grass – or, sometimes, just to take shelter – wisely beyond the reach of potential predators.

Even now, as we wait for the rose hedge to rebound from the weight of winter snow piled onto it for many long, cold weeks – before the green leaves unfurl, before the time for laying eggs – the birds take shelter there, darting within the still-brown brambles when a car comes past or a dog runs near or children yell to each other in the yard, a bit too close for the birds’ comfort.

They flit from bare lilac branches to rose hedge to serviceberry tree and highbush cranberry. The chickadees, year-round residents here, have shifted to their spring song now. Goldfinches – waiting, like the leaves and flowers, to show their summer colors – call “potato-chip, potato-chip” as they fly about. Song sparrows alight on different perches, their bright melody seeming to welcome spring, even on mornings when the temperature dips below freezing.

Soon, we will begin peering beneath the garden-side edge of the rugosa hedge, looking for the curled over spathes of Jack-in-the-pulpit. Several of the quirky plants poke up through the sheltered soil there each late spring, first just pointy leaves reaching skyward, then growing tall and taller and curving protectively over the spadix.

As summer bursts into color – a thought that seems distant with the memory of snow still so fresh – the rugosa’s swath of green leaves becomes peppered with yellow-centered pink blossoms, their scent permeating the yard and floating up to bedroom windows. A couple of wild raspberry canes mingle with the rose thorns, their juicy berries worth the scratches it takes to reach them.

Bees, earlier fed by the apple blossoms of the old orchard out back and a multitude of flowers growing wild through the yard and fields, buzz from rose bloom to rose bloom. The bees – and late summer butterflies – come to the rugosa even after its flowers have faded, to feast on the asters whose tall stalks twine up through the hedge. The bees cling tiredly, during these last warm days, to the asters’ fringed purple blooms as summer declines into chilly nights and shorter days.

But all that is in the seasonal distance. Spring has been late in coming this year, April serving up a slow thaw and lingering show showers. May, on the horizon, offers hope of greening leaves and a landscape slowly changing, from the tired brown left by winter’s cold and melted snow to colors, subtle at first, gradually blossoming into a spectrum of hues.

In the hottest, brightest days, the Rosa rugosa, with its labyrinth of flora and fauna within and around it, will bloom bright pink and divinely scented. Fleeting as summer, yes, but a sweet something to look forward to during the still whispering days of spring. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the April 27, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Transitioning

These last few weeks, I’ve felt a bit like the tiny crocuses outside the living room window –  alternately basking in the warm spring sunshine and huddling against the stubborn winter cold. My first peek out the window in the morning now is as likely to reveal a giant flock of robins hopping around the yard like an army of wind-up toys as it is a fresh coating of snow.

During these transitional days, I am often as indecisive as the seasons, still enjoying winter’s last thrills, even as I look forward to and prepare for spring – whenever it might arrive.

On those warm-sun days, if I have the time, I weigh the options – an outing with the dog or one more trip to the ski hill for fast turns down quiet groomers?

When the day warrants time only for a quick outing, I’ve traded in forays through the forest by cross-country ski for slow runs on backroad routes I haven’t traveled much since November. I try to identify the birdsong floating through a landscape that was recently winter-quiet and to remember where I usually spot the first wildflowers – often escaped from some long-ago garden.

On longer treks, when the sun beckons the dog and I to climb higher on still-snowy trails, I can’t help but think ahead to summer adventures. Which tall peaks, now still blanketed in snow, will we hike during the green months?

The kids have had their bikes out the last few weeks, as the afternoons stretch longer between school ending and the sun setting. They ride over mud and snow, skid out on the ice, remember the exhilaration of flying downhill on something other than skis – and think about summer rides to come.

The ski gear is still out, in case we are inspired for one more day on the slopes. The ski boots by the big radiator near the front door join a jumble of muck boots and sneakers, flipflops and soccer cleats – any of them potentially required on any given day now.

We’ve lugged the sleds and snowshoes back into the garage, but haven’t yet hauled them upstairs to their warm-weather storage, lest there’s one more good snowstorm that merits their use before spring really settles in. Experience tells us that snowstorm could come as late as Memorial Day – or not again until next fall.

Some days I am impatient for the seasons to get on with their shuffle, for sunshine to prevail over lingering flurries. On other days, I remind myself any snowflakes falling now won’t last long in the strengthening light and lengthening days.

This, the dog knows – or, more likely, she just doesn’t care. She takes pleasure in whatever she finds, running gleefully along dirty roads, traipsing through puddles and scampering hopelessly after the chittering red squirrels. She stares intently through the windows at the newly arrived birds hopping around the yard. She laps happily in the recently-thawed stream near our driveway, trots mindlessly through the mud, and then – as if it’s the best thing in the world – rolls gleefully in any big-enough patch of snow she can find.

Perhaps she remembers that snow will soon disappear. Spring is coming. Next week, maybe, or the week after that. Whenever it gets here, we’ll be ready.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the April 13, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Adventuring

Our group must have looked quite the spectacle from the tram cars: a gaggle of the littlest ski racers making their way down the mountain’s toughest trail. A few of our crew ripped right down D.J.’s Tramline, not the least bit phased by the rock drops and snowy bumps as high as the skiers who were maneuvering around them. Others struggled – more with their own nerves than with the technicality of the skiing. These are, after all, Cannon kids; they’ll ski just about anything.

After the descent, as we stood between the tram car docks waiting for a ride back to the summit, I had the kids look up at the trail they’d just skied: strewn with boulders and exceedingly steep in some areas. Whether they’d been the anxious ones or the confident skiers moments before, they all seemed to puff up just a little bit gazing back up the mountain.

That was my first time down Tramline, too, and it was, until Saturday, the only trail on the mountain I hadn’t skied. At least the only one on the trail map.

That trail map has changed a good bit since the days when I was one of the littlest ski racers here. Maybe it’s because I lived (and skied) away during college and for several years after that, or because I’ve been exploring the mountain with my own kids as they have grown and progressed in their skiing prowess, or because I coach with a guy who knows every nook and cranny here – on the trail map and off – whatever the reason, I find joy in this adventuring.

Last Wednesday my kids had a rare snow day from school, and we spent a good chunk of it at Cannon, arriving to find snow so deep it was hard to open the car doors (and we later had to dig said car out of the unplowed spot we’d parked in early that morning). We made one run down a wide-open trail before the kids dragged me into the woods, and we spent the rest of the day exploring.

I grew up skiing this mountain, although we were weekend commuters, so too far away to make it on a snow day from school. Back then, there were no glades. Sure, there were a few secret stashes off the saddle between Cannon and Mittersill, and once the latter area closed and the forest grew back up around trails and lift lines, there were some hidden spots there, too. But certainly nothing on the trail map.

Now Cannon lists 22 glades on its trail map, ranging from short, beginner woods runs to long, tight, tricky tree skiing. Wednesday we headed to the top to ski the glades there, then over to Mittersill to ski more glades, and finally ended the day on the old Tuckerbrook trail, cut back in the 1930s and maintained, often clandestinely, in the decades since.

This is the one off-piste trail I remember from my own childhood. Skiing it is a rite of passage. Tuckerbrook is not a particularly hard trail, but it is an adventure. You have to hike to reach the entrance, it’s not groomed, and there’s a long traverse out at the bottom. You also need to line up a lift back to the base area, as the trail spits skiers onto a dead end back road a couple of miles from any ski lift.

Although a few others had been in there by the time we reached Tuckerbrook Wednesday, it was some of the best skiing we had all day. As grateful as I am for the manmade snow that allows some consistency to ski season, there is nothing like the real stuff – and that’s what you find on Tuckerbrook and in the glades.

So it was fun to continue the adventuring last weekend, both for my kids and their ski groups and for the young skiers I help to coach. My youngest daughter took another trip down Tuckerbrook. My oldest skied a different unmapped trail. Our group snuck through woods so tight branches smacked our legs and cheeks as we made our way to hidden glades, turning around trees and rocks, finding soft snow everywhere we went.

I don’t know about the kids, but I ended the weekend tired – and fulfilled. And grateful that, on a mountain with as many secret stashes as there are named trails, there are plenty more adventures to chase.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the March 23, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.