Snowy Hills


      - by Dennis Kaska with photos by Martin Pytela

"March Blues"

March. A military word. Indeed, a subtle war is on. It doesn't stop, although the winner has been known. But people are tired; they get impatient. If they can afford it, they fly south for a week or two. When they come back the changes are almost imperceptible.

Just a month ago, everything was white. Now it's all dirty. It freezes at night but days are bright and calm, and water drips from roofs in the early afternoon. The town is muddy and dusty, grey and brown. The sun shines from the cloudless sky. The bright light brings out the harshness of break-up. It doesn't last long; on the weekend, grey clouds gather and it snows. Tiny snow pellets are driven by cold winds.

There's nothing glamorous about this country in March. It's testing the depth of our affection. The Russians are famous for wandering aimlessly through forests and hugging birch trees and confessing to them about their love for the fatherland. There's a dormant Russian in most of us - that's what compels us to transform a piece of geography into a "home". And it often doesn't end there. There are people who deliver monologues to, and invent dialogues with, a chosen piece of geography. Some people call them poets. Ah, one can imagine a country as a woman, as a lover. She is full of the usual insecurities, so she's asking:

"Can you love me even now? Can you take me as I am?"

But there are not many lovers out there in March. The rich flew south; the bank-pecked, the workaholics, the overachievers and the homebodies stay indoors. They're too busy to stop and look around. Then they get sick with the flu. They feel so lousy that in the morning they have to call their bosses and, filled with hard-to-explain guilt, tell them that they can't make it to work. The silent disapproval on the other end of the line is palpable.

Spending a day on the couch in the living room is a pure torture. The body aches, nothing is of any interest. Can't read, can't watch TV. The only thing that can be watched without worsening one's headache is the tree outside the window. The snow came back. It's captivating to watch it fall. Nothing else moves. This is the first solitude in months. Just a few hours ago it was a pure torture, solitude. Maybe that's why the flu came; the lack of solitude - no time for thoughts, no time to watch snowflakes.

Another day on the sick bed. The sky and the air seem so pure, but the bottom is hard on the eyes - mud and patches of crystalized snow smeared with mud. The neighbour's cat is crossing the backyard with a dead mouse in his mouth, the first mouse of the year. It gets really warm during the day. The compacted snow on the driveway and in the backyard begins to melt. Then, at night, the temperature drops to minus ten. The driveway is now like a mirror. The weather changes within a couple of hours. Warm winds from the Pacific bring in massive rain clouds. It rains hard and water runs on frozen surfaces. All the drains around the house are plugged with ice. The carport fills up with water which finds its way into the basement.

My body still aches. I have a headache - my sinuses are plugged. But I have to fight the flood. I drag myself out of bed and drive to town to rent a pump. I pray that no one sees me. My boss would have a fit. Sick people don't drive around, sick people don't rent pumps. I'm lucky, everything goes smoothly. I spend the day pumping dirty water. I run back and forth with buckets of hot water trying to thaw out the drains. I start to gain around four in the afternoon. The drains unplugged, I manage to pump all the water out of the carport. The concrete floor in the basement is still wet and it smells like a greenhouse on a very humid day. I take the pump back and pay forty bucks. On the way back, I spy my boss's pick-up in my rearview mirror. I step on the gas and race up hill. Luckily, he turns off the main road before he catches up with me. Back in bed, I feel ten times worse than in the morning.

Aspen Trees on Ice

My doctor diagnosed me with pneumonia. It took me ten days before I was able to drag myself back to work. The boss had a hard time to accept that someone can be sick for that long. The only time he ever got sick was in Mexico after he ate some seafood. He avoids me and communicates with me through his secretary. It must be lonely to be such a superman. On top of everything, I miss the tree outside my living room window. We became friends, and my office is windowless. The boss believes that windows prevent people from working hard. I need to reconnect. I invent long dialogues with my chosen piece of geography. I wonder if someone would call me a poet.

Finally it's Saturday. To hell with all the chores! I hop into my pick-up and drive deep into the country. No place special. I'm still quite weak, but lately the weather has been mild. Maybe I can find a quiet spot, sit down on a fallen tree trunk, soak up the sunshine, and see the changes. The roads are a sea of mud. I leave the main logging road behind and follow an old wagon trail. It leads me to a chain of swampy meadows. I park the truck under a huge fir tree and walk slowly along the edge of the forest. The buds are swollen and sticky. Yellow-winged blackbirds land on reeds and call to each other. A grouse cock goes through his drumming routine somewhere to my left in a clump of aspens. I sit down on a lichen-clad rock and take a deep breath. A jet plane is crossing the pale blue copula of the sky. It must be full of returning vacationers. The air has a bitter smell. Everything's wet and mouldy. A dopey mosquito drifts by. Aries took over from Pisces. Fire over Water. I doze off and dream about the brownish, mouldy filth at my feet nurturing new shoots of green grass, about a warm breeze rushing through aspen groves, about the smell of tiny violets and young, sticky leaves.

"Oh, Misery of Earth, destined forever,
the horrible old age herding us into the pew,
only Jesus Christ is young as ever,
young as a twig adorned with pearling dew."

I wonder if my minister would approve, I wonder if my boss would consider me a poet. It's the end of March. March, such a military word.

Article copyright 1997 Dennis Kaska
Photos copyright 1997 Martin Pytela

© 1996 Interactive Broadcasting Corporation