It's the end of March. It's -20 C outside. The brown snow on the boulevard tells me it will be a while until my city blooms again. On days like these, I can understand why people question my decision to live here, intellectually at least. In my heart, I will always be a Prairie girl. In my heart, this will always be home. I can see the beauty here even in its most barren season.
Perhaps the cold has addled my mind a little, but there is something satisfying about hearing the crunch of the snow in "minus ridiculous temperatures" (as a friend once called it) on a crystal-clear, sunny, winter's day. As I am lucky to live near the Assiniboine Parkway, my husband and I have spent many hours treading that path. What we lack for conversation in the cold is made up for by our rhythm section of Sorels on snow and the swish of ski pants. And yes, Winnipeg, even then I love you: big sky, big blue, big cold. Nothing by half measures.
I'd be lying, though, if I didn't say I still dream of the day the buds on the trees will pop. There are some pretty amazing trees along the parkway -- cottonwoods, I think. My husband and I have named two of them "the Twins." They are on the north side of Wellington Crescent, just east of Chataway Boulevard. My favourite tree in town, however, is on the south side of Wellington, west of Chataway. On a big bend in the road stands a majestic senator we've christened "Big Boy." I am humbled and filled with awe every time I see its branches gently arching towards the ground. As spectacular as the canopy looks in winter, I am impatient to see it full of leaves. In my mind, I can already hear the fantastic rustle they will make in the wind, whispering secrets to passersby. It's as if no matter where we go as a city, somehow the trees will always remind us of our roots.
When it comes to my roots, I must confess I grew up on the city outskirts, along Birds Hill park's northern boundary. That probably explains my love of nature, trees and gardens. It also, however, takes me right back into town. My parents grew up in the North End at a time when everybody had a garden, when farmland was a part of the city, and when rural traditions were still very much a part of city life. Both sets of grandparents gardened extensively. They passed along those skills and their love of the land to my parents, who in turn taught them to my brothers and me. It will come as little surprise, then, that my all-time favourite Winnipeg spots are the English and Leo Mol Sculpture Gardens in Assiniboine Park.
The gardens in Assiniboine Park are glorious year-round. I will rarely pass up an opportunity to visit them. The ever-changing array of flowers echoes the seasons. No matter the season, though, my favourite thing to do in the gardens is feed the chickadees out of my hand. One of the gardeners once told me a gentleman began feeding them about 25 years ago and other people continued the tradition. All I can say is that it is quite special. It is ordinary magic and a reminder of the simplest and best things in life... or perhaps I am just a crazy bird lady -- ha!
I love Winnipeg. I love our resilience and creativity that are born of extremes. As trying as those extremes can be, they are part of what make this city so beautiful. Winnipeg, you are good for my artist's soul: roots in the ground, hands digging in the garden, heart full. Wherever my journeys may take me, your prairie spirit will follow.
Lara Ciekiewicz is an opera singer, concert performer, and self-confessed Prairie girl for life. You can catch her playing the saucy minx, Musetta, in Manitoba Opera's production of La Bohème April 5, 8, and 11 at the Centennial Concert Hall. For more information and tickets go to www.manitobaopera.mb.ca.