On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Landscapes of a Calendar Year on the Hills

January 1 as the beginning of the calendar year seems to have been an arbitrary decision. Adopted before the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar, it seems to have been chosen for no particular reason. If they had to choose a religious festival, Easter would make more sense to me. Rebirth, rejuvenation, the awakening of nature in spring – about mid-April in my part of the world – that’s when I feel like celebrating. The Buddhist Theravada New Year would have been perfect, celebrating for three days from the first full moon in April.

April, when the snow, rotted and pebbly, or frozen in slabs in the crevasses of roots and rocks, is clearly losing the battle against the sun, having quietly risen high enough on its arc to touch sleeping nature.

April is when the year should begin. Since it is barely a fraction into the long six-or-seven-month winter, January One is merely a tease. Nothing is beginning; the earth is in deep dormancy, not even aware enough to scoff at our restrained hope that soon another cycle of nature will begin.

Nevertheless, we do mark the change of numerals; the exchange of twelve-page, humourously, gaudily or artfully illustrated calendars in kitchen and office. Treating the impending date less as a deadline and more as a fresh start, we chronicle the year in Christmas letters and put the paperwork in order. The impulse to record the past is strong, for future reference or to merely put it behind us. Despite my disapproval of the particular date chosen, I too am compelled to comply and so offer a record of 2011 in Swan Hills landscapes, (each clickable for better resolution).

Another year…that begins, and ends, with winter.

January, and the year begins. But as flora and fauna are deeply settled into their winter routine, they are unlikely to note the occasion. The hare and mink blend into the white blanket; the surface downy or crusty. Voles and the crowns of plants stay below in survivalist activity or quiet repose. Squirrels dwell aloft among crepitating and thickly needled branches, following their aerial circuits to sustaining caches of pine and spruce cones. Moose dig for nourishment, or plunder the shrubs, bending the branches to reach the softest growth.

February is a short but obdurate month that could just as well be the end of January and the beginning of March. Winds will blow, snow may accumulate, but by holding the earth in limbo, it doesn't distinguish itself from its line-mates so barely deserves its own name.

Despite the dictum of the constellations, Leo is unlikely to be inclined to give way to Aries through the vernal equinox to the end of March. Aries will rise but may be as quiet as a lamb while the wanton lion continues to rampage across the landscape throughout the month. Lethargy yields to dolorous impatience and the bravado of endurance wanes.

Ah April! Softly gliding in as March lets go its hold, gently touching earth carrying promises, not of April showers or even May flowers, but of colour nonetheless: reflecting the deep blue of the sky on a skim of water; drawing the reds and yellows to willow branches and enriching the greens of the conifers.

As the ground thaws, slowly releasing the long-trapped moisture, buds begin to swell and sap to rise. May can be a dangerous month. No longer covered with snow, last year's exposed vegetation dries quickly in the wind. Still dormant, dry and brittle branches, waiting for sap to rise from still frozen roots, are most vulnerable this month to the catastrophic but crucial effects of fire.

Now the earth is animated. June's energy is contagious. In a rush to complete botanical cycles, plants take advantage of the long hours of daylight. The vitality of accelerated transformations is palpable. The forest seems sentient and embracing. The irony of the summer solstice, just as growth gets going, is not lost on the human inhabitants, who while rejoicing in the reassuring scent of summer to come are grounded by the subtly shortening days.

Perhaps a few degrees of warmth below the average, July here is nevertheless a classically salubrious summer month of wooly clouds, warmth and wildflowers in bloom. Sedulous nature slows its pace as vegetation languidly draws in sunlight and suitable nutrients. The canopy is quiet as, after the cacophony of mating, songbirds settle in to raise their broods, although through the late sunset you may still hear the sonorous call of the white-throated sparrow: 'Dear sweet Canada, Canada, Canada'.

By the middle of August, the shorter days have given their message to the plant and animal kingdoms. Many species of waterfowl begin to gather in local wetlands in preparation for migration; other birds have already begun their long journeys. Assisting the escaping sun, the sky itself seems to convey the message of warning with diabolic displays and vigorous storms.

By the beginning of September, the message is clear. Winter will come again. Blossoms have fallen and berries are ripe and have sweetened under the first frosts. A lucky glimpse will reveal the buds of soon-to-be magnificent antlers on handsome ungulates preparing for the rut. Low shrubs turn orange, red and yellow and the uniquely deciduous tamarack changes into a blazingly golden cloak before dropping its needles.

October is a capricious month. Warm, soft breezes or arctic winds may lift the drying carpet of leaves on any given October day. Layers of outerwear are donned and doffed between and within the indecisive days. More often than not, this month will give way to winter before its days are out and we rush to finish yard cleanup and ensure that Halloween costumes will fit over the children's snowsuits.

The low-slung November sun holds the stars to earth on billowy clouds of snow throughout the shortening day. Shadowy indentations of hoof and claw reveal the nocturnal activities of predator and prey. Conifers hoard the pretty, protective mass, testing the strength of laden branches; the weaker ones will hug the earth, providing shelter for animals and eventually sustenance for the next generation in the soil.

It is a very unusual Christmas that is not a white one in these hills, which seem to stand in the way of storms driven from the north, knocking precipitation from them. Unusually mild temperatures brought wet snow, falling here in this middle-aged timber plantation where no tracks of hare or weasel crisscrossed its shelterless understory.

Weather may not control life any more – we go on about our business regardless, considering the sky only when donning our outdoor apparel – but it does continually transform the landscape. While an abundance of snow sculpted a brilliant winter wonderland last year, this winter has been unusually mild and windy, slopping muddied white paints unevenly across a lusterless undercoat of browns and grays. The calendar notwithstanding, nature’s year will not begin for some months yet and however un-photogenic the rest of the winter may prove to be, I will wait patiently, striving to embrace rather than endure the coming months.

An interesting article in Scientific America discusses the commercial time-management advantages to overhauling the Gregorian Calendar. While they’re at it, they really should make sure the year starts in spring. Oh wait – whose spring? Yours or mine?

When ever your spring might be, I wish you the best of all twelve months to come. Happy New Year and I sincerely thank you all those who stop by here for your continued support and encouragement.


19 comments on “Landscapes of a Calendar Year on the Hills

  1. Bob Zeller
    December 30, 2011

    Another wonderful masterpiece of words and photos. Cindy, I have missed all of your writing. Happy New Year to you and yours. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      December 30, 2011

      You have been a great motivator, Bob and I sincerely thank you for it. I wish you all the best in 2012.

  2. farmhouse stories
    December 31, 2011

    I could feel the excitement build toward June, and agree, April should be the start of the year. This is such a beautiful post, I love having a view into the natural world that surrounds you through the months, organized so elegantly. You’re really talented at conveying the uniqueness of the wilderness in your part of the country through these wonderful photos and words. Wishing you inspiration through the winter months, Cindy, and a happy new year.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 1, 2012

      I am delighted that you felt the “excitement build”. Writing the little vignettes, I had to force myself to even give any attention to some of the winter months – not because I dislike winter, but just because there are so many of those months. I wonder if I would feel that way about summer if I lived somewhere that sultry heat made that season’s months indistinguishable from each other for more than half the year. Thank you so much for your kind words and wishes. All the best to you as well.

  3. Pat Boomer
    December 31, 2011

    Happy New Year Cindy!
    Get your mitts ready for the 11th ๐Ÿ™‚
    Amazing how uninteresting this season has been so far, need some snow!

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 1, 2012

      Well, I feel as if I’ve just been given a sure tip at the racetrack! Thanks Pat, I will definitely be prepared for that date. I expect the winter skies are not often as interesting as in summer for you. It seems that we are either under a dense gray blanket or blindingly blue sky. The clouds (and I’ve been watching them much more knowledgably since I’ve been reading your blog) don’t have the variety and interest as often as they do in the summer, do they? We do have the snow, although some open areas have been blown almost bare, but certainly not like last year. And what we do have has been packed and crusted by the warm temps and wind. Thanks so much for stopping by, Pat and for the tip!

  4. Sybil
    January 1, 2012

    Cindy, the snowy, winter shots are lovely but there are too many of them. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Summer had barely begun in your tale, and boom you’re talking about shorter days in August. Yipes ! I’m stayin’ here on the east coast.

    The year really should begin with spring, but as you say, “Whose spring?”.

    Happy 2012.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 2, 2012

      Oh, I agree Sybil. By March I crave spring (anybody’s), as you might imagine. As a kid, I lived a few years each in Newfoundland and Ontario and would love someday to go back out east. Happy new year to you also, Sybil and keep sharing your wonder & humour.

  5. B.Held
    January 2, 2012

    Such beautiful pictures! Thank you for stopping by my site from time to time to say “hello.” I hope you have a wonderful 2012 ahead of you.


    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 2, 2012

      You’re welcome, Brittany. I love the way you see the world. All the best wandering and inspiration to you too.

  6. tms
    January 3, 2012

    Thanks for giving us this opportunity to fast forward through a year! While we wait for summer (or snow respectively) time passes slowly. The changes are subtle in real life, with falling leaves or first frosts as ‘beacons’. Your Calendar Year is a great idea – and a joy to behold.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 6, 2012

      Time does seem so slow down when waiting for the seasons to change. It’s interesting how a switch of mental focus from work or other projects to the weather can involve such a change in perception in relation to the passage of time. Thanks for the compliments, Tobias. I appreciate your stopping by.

  7. Jim Rook
    January 4, 2012

    Hi Cindy, I hope that this wonderful posting of scenery and your vivid descriptions means we will be seeing more of you online. We’ve missed you. As you stated, it appears to be a very abnormal winter season thus far as a dry and brown Christmas was had here in central Minnesota as well. Alas, I have to believe that will change soon as we now have a couple of inches of snow covering the brown earth. Best to you in 2012.

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 6, 2012

      I am really hoping to get back to posting more often. I am also determined to get back to posting regularly to Flickr, where I post a picture almost daily with little description. My chosen long format here holds me back, since it takes me a long time to complete the text, but it is what I want to do. I’m delighted to hear you’ve missed me, though. I very much enjoy, and am inspired by the time I spend browsing though your blog and others’. If only there were more hours in the day, I seem to be making decisions on what’s Not going to be done today, rather than what is. Thank you for stopping by.

  8. From Moments to Memories
    January 9, 2012

    Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, thanks for sharing. “Bob” sent me ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Cindy Kilpatrick
      January 10, 2012

      Thank you so much! Isn’t “Bob” a doll? ๐Ÿ™‚ With a quick look at your blog I can see that Bob recognized that you and I share passions. I look forward to a closer look when I’m not stealing ‘getting ready for work’ time.

  9. julianhoffman
    January 10, 2012

    Marvellous way to chart the year, Cindy; and you chart it so well and sensitively. A thoroughly delightful journey, regardless of when we start. So much about our sense of time is arbitrary anyways that I’m quite happy to have the year begin with spring. Though what I like about January is its proximity to the winter solstice, so that even though we’re wrapped deep in winter if we live in the northern hemisphere each day is already making way for a little more light that creaks through to cast its glow on the snow and ice and frost. It hasn’t risen above zero for weeks now and we have a good foot of snow spread out about the mountains and lakes that it seems as though we’ve traded seasons this year!

    Your August photo is simply stunning, the brooding sky leading me on along the road…

    Hope this finds you well and with a resurgence of creativity. I always look forward to your deft and honest portraits of the northern world; long may those vistas unfold for you so that we can glimpse them beautifully through your eyes.

    Best wishes,


  10. Kia
    January 16, 2012

    You always share so much beauty, Cindy! Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I hope that 2012 will be a great year, and will bring you all that your heart desires!

  11. Pingback: A Year on the Boreal Landscape: The Book. Finally. « On and Over the Hills

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This entry was posted on December 30, 2011 by in The Journey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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