Our Canadian correspondent, David M Reid, sends us a poem accompanied by one of his paintings of snow in Alberta. He has recently completed a collection called ‘Poems from the Pig’s Back’.
Our first Alberta snow.
The sun slips behind the black silhouettes of the Rockies.
Fingers and ears chill with disturbing speed.
Faster than in an Irish winter dusk.
A single oversized snow flake,
the size of a small silver coin,
floats down, lands and melts on Vikki’s nose.
but soon followed
by a multitude of feathery crystals.
In minutes we resemble twin furry snowmen,
so retire indoors to watch in warm comfort,
the snow transform our small world,
into a mysterious land of voluptuous curves.
The pristine snow unblemished, unmarked,
no hard lines, no edges.
A scruffy red nine-bark bush became a mystical Norse creature
clad in a blue white coat.
A cheap plastic urn with dead lilac,
now a furry winter troll.
Each fence post, an upright sentry
crowned with a conical snow hat.
Our ugly dented car morphs into a smooth
Henry Moore sculpture reclining winter nude
in her voluptuous ermine coat.
These winter creatures seem on friendly terms
as little stirs in this silent frozen tableau.
The only moving thing is falling snow
which muffles all traffic sound.
Our silent world stops,
We are inside a child’s Christmas snow globe.
Emeritus Professor of Botany David Mayne Reid from the University of Calgary also sent the following commentary
On reading your magazine I became intrigued by the experiences of Irish emigrating to Australia versus emigrating to Canada. Both huge countries but of rather different climatic environments. I have connections with Australia as I have visited a number of times, immensely enjoying each visit, and have friends scattered around your country (Canberra, Perth, Adelaide, Ballarat). In the nineteenth century quite a few of my family emigrated from Ulster mainly to the region NE of Adelaide and we still have copies of some of their letters home. My wife and I emigrated from riot-torn Belfast to oil boom town Calgary in 1968.
David Read’s Our First Alberta Snow is a title which stirs my heart. Little did I imagine where my first sight of that title would lead.
It swept me back decades to a Saturday morning in Calgary at the U of C campus, outdoors looking up at the sky not far from the Varsity Courts accommodation complex. I was becoming aware of a magical whiteness which was silently and gracefully descending from the sky. Then back in the present, my thought stream was interrupted as my wife noticed what I was reading and asked, “Is that your poem?” After responding in the negative, I drifted back into my reverie recognizing that her question had been based in a truth that once upon a time, both she and I had drunk of the spirit which was inspiring the poem I was reading.
Our first magical Alberta snowfall had occurred only weeks after arriving from Australia, in fact from Ballarat. Only days before that Saturday, on the road out from Calgary, we had been awed by the vast majesty of the snow-corona-capped Rockies rising in an apparitional tower of glory up ahead. We were seeing them then without snowy skirts around their bases. Nothing like that in Australia! But on that peaceful Saturday morning, no Rockies were needed to enliven the mystical vision of first soft snow falling gently on the undulating terrain near Varsity Courts. Unspoilt, a simple gentle mystery of softly falling snow!
Later during our sojourn, the now snow-clad Canadian Rockies would combine with snow to show us another example of a phenomenon of which the David Read speaks. Snow had blanketed and smoothed out otherwise jagged craggy outcrops. As Australians, we were well adapted to notice such changes in the Rockies’ vastness. But we were people unlikely to notice the shadowy outlines of any Norse creatures lurking nearby.
During those months, one particularly delightful day in early Spring stood out. It exuded sublime snowy peace and joy. Seemingly alone in the world, skimming the snow around a still-frozen Lake Louise on our cross-country skis, encircled about by sheer walls of whiteness, we sped along embraced by solitude. Here and there towards the tops of those surrounding snow high walls above, seemingly miniscule avalanches popped like detonated little fireworks, bringing down with them the apparent matchsticks of great fir trees. Those avalanches represented of a more threatening side of our exhilarating Alberta snow experience. It was that side which presented us with a special Christmas snow globe event.
An Alberta blizzard descended on Calgary just a few days before Christmas. Out in the Rockies in coming days, an unwitting tourist would be frozen to death just metres from the Banff Hotel. Frightening news for us and for another Australian family, newly-arrived in Calgary. On the first night of that blizzard, they had unwittingly ventured out and navigated icy snow-covered roads before arriving at the house to which they had been invited. Their amazed hosts had greeted them with startled bewilderment. We thought ourselves old hands but were still novices to snow wisdom. By Boxing Day, it seemed to us that there had been a slight moderation in the conditions outside. Thus, on that day we too ignored a still jagged driving snowstorm which lacked any of the fuzzy softness of my first snowfall. With our children, we ventured out to trial our newly acquired toboggan on the slopes of a nearby public park. It was another day of an aloneness but this time within a whirling world of snow. Memorable if somewhat foolhardy!
We returned to Australia from Canada bringing back a rosy affection for Alberta. Like true Albertans we could sing warmly about going home to Alberta. I proclaimed the dawn a great new era of international travel exchange across the world. International travel did boom in the years that followed. But it had the unforeseen result that crowds of tourists would prevent any repetition of our solitary Lake Louise experience. Then Covid came to end that boom time. By then, another error in my prediction of international travel Nirvana had already been revealed.
I had assumed that, like us, other travelling waifs suffering Christmas separation from family and friends on the other side of the world would be welcomed everywhere as warmly as we had been by Calgarians. Instead, I had found that in my Australian government was mandating that certain travelling waifs coming to our shores should languish in indefinite detention. And this is a matter which seemingly troubles only a minority of my fellow citizens.
Occasionally though, something does occur which is powerful enough to cut through our complacent fog and bite like an Alberta blizzard. My reading of David Read’s poem juxtaposes my thoughts with such an event. An adult female asylum seeker, who has been living for eight years in Australia on visas and who not long ago delivered a stillborn child, has been given notice that she must return from whence she came. Such news has blizzard sharp teeth.
But ironically, it is people like that woman whose lives are gobbled up by those cold sharp teeth. The Australian government continues to pack them off to face their fate. For them, there is no relief to be provided by any mystical blanket of soft snow. What a great Christmas it would be were the Australian government to experience the pervasive gentleness of a soft snow blanket and feel motivated to round out and flatten the icy, hard, cutting edges of its present policy!
Like blizzards, all government policy must have an end. While I await the coming of that time, I have the good fortune of from being able to draw some consolation from my memories of the once-upon-a-time real world fairy tale of our first Alberta snow. Occasionally also, something unexpected provides an extra dose of sustaining comfort and joy, a booster shot of hope. I categorize David Read’s delightful poem as such a gift.
As a postscript to my comment, I sincerely apologize to David Reid for so consistently and persistently misspelling his name.