Spring brings out the packrat in me

Spring is coming slow here in northern BC with daytime highs of five or six and lows in the minus seven range.

Spring is coming slow here in northern BC with daytime highs of five or six and lows in the minus seven range.

The roads have turned bare and dry but the fields are still full of the white stuff. It is slowly — oh so slowly — settling into the ground and filling the earth with its life giving moisture.

It’s a broccoli kind of spring. We know it’s good for us but we can’t wait for the dessert to show up just the same — even if it means clogged arteries or high blood sugar. Or in this case, flooded basements and washed out roads.

Still I know spring has sprung because my parka is getting heavy. I have been an outdoor pick pocketer since childhood and spring is always when I go on a spree. Freshly exposed gravel roads after months of snow and ice make all those bits of rock look especially beautiful. As the season wears on I will get fussier, but right now I am pocketing freshly exposed pebbles like a greedy magpie. Sparkly ones, green ones, red ones, smooth ones, oddly shaped ones.

I am also a sucker for unique pieces of wood, bits of bark, feathers, pine cones, eggshells dropped by a robin after the hatch, antlers, abandoned wasp nests and the like. Some of these things find permanent places in our home while others take up space for a few weeks, then after being thoroughly admired are released back into the wild.

I am not sure where the compulsion to ferret bits of nature into our home comes from. I do know I am not alone. I have a childhood friend who now lives in Australia who shares my affliction. I was delighted to receive three Australian parrot feathers in the mail. In exchange I sent her some Canadian woodpecker and magpie feathers to remind her of home.

I also know several people who collect rocks. Not pebbles that can be stuffed into pockets, but the kind of rocks that require the use of both hands and a strong back all the way up to hiring a crane. I recently spoke with an amazing woman from Ontario who collected rocks and plants with equal passion resulting in a one-of-a-kind gorgeous garden.

The majority of her rocks were found in the surrounding forest and lugged home by hand or by wheelbarrow but a few of the mammoth ones were purchased from a nearby quarry. She described marking the ones she liked with a roll of florescent surveyor tape.

It took her weeks to make up her mind as she agonized over each one. To make matters worse every week they unearthed new ones and so she would find herself removing the tape from a previous selection in favour of a new one.I could easily empathize with her dilemma.

I have always wanted to buy a few big rocks of my own. One that I have admired for years I doubt is for sale and even if it were it would cost a fortune to bring it home.It sits in a front yard along the highway between Grande Prairie and Edmonton. It’s the size of a couple elephants. Or maybe an elephant and a sizable tiger. It’s hard to judge when you’re flying by at a 100 clicks, but I do know that it’s big. Leaning against its side is a ladder. It seems to me that both the rock and the ladder have been there for as far back as I can remember. And that’s a pretty long time considering I can remember when Pringles potato chips were new fangled.

The top of the rock is perfectly flat. Half a dozen people could fit up there with ease. I have never gone by when anyone was on the rock, but the ladder sets the imagination to flight. Picnics, sun bathing, cloud watching, star gazing, camp outs . . . I think it would be a fine thing to have a rock like that in my garden.

If I keep squirreling rocks home at my current pace I could soon build a pile of pebbles about the same size as that rock. However, highway maintenance might have a few questions for me.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern BC. You can read more at www.shannonmckinnon.com

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