It's Easter; we've travelled into a different season again, out of Calgary's unreliable spring, driving north to the all-too-dependable late winter at Nana's house. It's been a hard winter here, early and deeply cold, with heavy snow still coming even in March. The swings down at the schoolyard are hanging six inches off the crust. The bottoms of the slides are buried. This is the kind of snow I remember from my childhood. Small boy is entranced.

Weeping Birch at Nana's House © FM Vettergreen

The early cold meant many trees didn't have time to develop the cork that allows their leaves to drop; odd to see so many branches wearing faded fall colours while the snow slowly melts around them. This kind of weather is tough on trees, though at least the steady cold means that if they made it to dormancy, they will have stayed that way, and the deep snow insulates their roots.

Nana's front yard is dominated by a gnarly old weeping birch. I've never really appreciated this tree. Though the branches hang almost to the ground to create an enchanted room for children and spiders, in summer it's a mass of green blocking light to the window, and in winter an unrefined snarl of branches. This year, though, it irresistibly draws my eye. The yellow fall foliage, darkened now to tawny orange and contrasting sharply with the blue of the tree's own shadow on softening snow, defines its shape. And there it is, a whole winter summed.

It's easy to find the abstraction in this small landscape, but that's not everything; it's easy to break the mountains down to shapes and colour and strong lines, too, and I do, every time I head out to paint en plein air and catch their peaks in a long view. But last week I was content to take photographs. This week I'm committing shapes and colours and patterns to memory. There are paintings waiting for me to get to the studio. It's tax time, and I need to prep some new panels, and I've a conference coming up…but it's okay. These images will stay with me long enough for all that.

And now I'm thinking about why my beloved mountains aren't calling me, but this elderly tree is making my fingers itch. I have an idea it's about proximity, about walking past this tree, and giving small boy freedom to nest under it, and drinking my tea in a living room dimmed by its shadow. And then I think about how enormous the mountains felt, how impossibly long a hike up into the high wild valleys where my soul breathes would take at this junction in my life…and I think, here, this tree in the ell of Nana's house, this fits.

I bet there's room under there for an artist, too.


4 thoughts on “Scale.

  1. Anne McClelland

    Lovely description of the attached memories to this tree. I had the same relationship with a willow tree in my yard growing up. And – your descriptions of your abstracts make me want to explore that in my own work. Great post. THANKS.

    1. Frances Post author

      Thank you, Anne! This isn’t a tree I grew up with; it’s the in-laws’ house, and though Nana grew up on a farm near this small town, my husband was born and raised in Ontario. I’m not sure how long they’ll live here…I’m going to have to find a tree for small boy to love closer to home.

  2. Christine

    Beautiful hommage to a well-loved tree. Made me think about the Mayday tree in front of my parents’ home in Edmonton. I used to climb up its sturdy limbs to marvel at the canopy of its showy and fragrant blossoms in Spring, clamber up read my Nancy Drew books over Summer vacation and draw its naked branches in the Fall and Winter in my scrapbook when I was supposed to be doing math. My two babies (now 12 and 15 years) learned to climb trees in that very same tree when we would bring them to visit their Nana from where we were living up in the tundra Northern Alberta. Thank you for sharing your special tree story, it made me feel grateful to remember mine. 🙂

    1. Frances Post author

      I hope somebody loves this tree. I didn’t until the early winter revealed its beauty, and Nana and Grandpa mostly ignore it. Small boy is just old enough to be interested; last year it was too scary. But they will be probably be selling in a year or two.

      My childhood tree was really several…at one count there were 30 trees in our backyard in St. Albert. The only climbable one was a maple but I think my favourite was a wonderfully productive mountain ash. Sadly both of them are gone now.

      Mayday trees make me sneeze!


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