These are papayas. They were growing over one of the gardener's entrances to the Palm Room. Elsewhere, there were small bunches of bananas.
I wondered, looking up, my glasses ever-so-slightly fogged, if the gardeners pick the fruit. And, if so, what do they do with it - do they share it or do they take turns taking home a single ripe fruit?
All photos Assiniboine Forest, Winnipeg, MB. March 10, 2014.
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So a week ago, when the cold was unrelenting, I remembered the Conservatory.
To be clear, I remembered the hundred-year-old Palm Room at Assiniboine Park. The rest of the Conservatory was (re)built around the Palm Room in 1968.
It's a small room. One loop that has always included a small fishpond half-full of coins (next to a sign that says "Please don't throw coins in the fishpond.").
One green and humid loop that is full of sun, even towards the end of a miserable February.
While I'm committed to (obsessive about?) my own forest, I'm happy to mushroom anywhere.
Also, given that I'm working on non-fiction essays on urban forests, I've been trying to look at other forests (or forest-like spaces) analytically.
So: many reasons, physiological and otherwise, to spent a few hours in the Conservatory, endlessly walking that loop.
We visited on the Saturday first, stopping in for a little less than an hour before rushing off to (indoor) skating across the city. But the girl and I went back the next day, with an activity bag for the girl and a camera for me.
And I sat and looked. And waited for my camera to acclimatize. And watched people enter the Palm Room, take a deep breath, and struggle out of their coats.
After a few minutes, I started taking pictures. Of the trees, of the vines, of the groundcover. And I got sweaty doing it, which was strange and also kind of wonderful.
But I was looking at everything, absorbing everything, with the knowledge that the Palm Room only has a few more years, because the glassy dome that protects it - and the greenhouses that supply it with plants - is on the verge of failing.
There have been plans to rebuild the Conservatory for years, but, recently, it was announced that virtually none of specimens from the Palm Room will be transplanted to the new space. The big trees can't be transplanted and it doesn't make sense, financially, to go to the bother of transplanting the smaller ones.
So the few trees that were planted when the Palm Room was first built in 1914 will likely be cut down.
Having read the news articles, I stood there for a long time, trying to decide how I felt about this decision. Is it reasonable to expect horticulturalists to try to transplant trees whose root systems have the same footprint as the building itself? No. Is the then-inevitable death of the old trees (and, also, the young trees) still something to mourn? Yes. And yes.
I also realized, standing there, that the that mass of greenery that is the Palm Room isn't a forest. It's closer to a small garden, but even then, it doesn't have any of the snails and butterflies and spiders and bees and slugs and mosquitoes that a garden would have here in Zone 3.
Neither does it have any of the birds or small animals that would live in and around a garden or the larger animals that might live amidst the trees, even in an urban setting.
And there were no mushrooms. Not in the soil. Not on the trunks of the trees I could access from the path. Not anywhere.
So. While the Palm Room felt vitally alive, while it felt necessary, like a garden or an arboretum, it's a construction. And a fragile one at that: Park officials are worried, for instance, that the building won't make it until the new Conservatory is finished, four or five years from now.
I'm going to pledge to spend the next four or five winters visiting the Palm Room, absorbing more of its bright green light. And to say goodbye to the hundred years of gardeners' fingers in the soil and on the plants that create its impossible humidity.
Announcing this year's judges for the Online Semifinals: Martine Audet, Bathelémy Bolivar, Alice Burdick, Brad Cran, Jon Paul Fiortino, Ariel Gordon, Rino Morin Rossignol, Jeanne Painchaud, Stuart Ross, and Ian Williams.
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So I'm pleased to be (on-line semi-final) judging again this year for Poetry in Voice, which is a poetry recitation contest for Canadian high schools.
Being asked to spend an afternoon, or really several afternoons, listening to students recite Canadian poetry...I mean, how could you be a poet and not be for that?
Apparently, there are 377 schools competing this year, which I was glad to hear includes a few new Manitoban entries.
It's also nice to see that Franco-Manitoban poet Bathelémy Bolivar has been added as a judge. Manitoba's French poetry scene is small but dedicated, which I learned when I helped program the bilingual edition of Aqua Books' Lansdowne Prize for Poetry Reading Series back in the day.
Manitoba's francophone community is the largest outside of Quebec, so it's good to see them represented here.
Ten weeks in, the skittish doe left the fawn safe and unsound under a shrub. Twenty feet away, her matchstick legs were taken out by a carful of careening teenagers.
At first, the homeowner thought the two heads were her rusty garden spades – surprised by that first blizzard and left out all winter – but then she spotted the fawn at the other end of the yard, the light through the clouds starved and cold. Twins, she thrilled, near-sighted. And put out freezer-burned corn.
So the two-headed fawn survived its first week alone. So it ambled here and there, on legs like hand-dipped candles.
Its tawny spots were fed by vacant lot fodder – clover and crab grass and blue plastic bag – an indigestible bellyful.
The fawn was all soft bones and bleating teeth when it fell. It broke down and was broken down. Not like a flooded car. Not like a butcher’s diagram. The fawn’s collapse at the foot of a scrub tree was soft and fine.
And so the fungi in its crowded roots were fed by two-headed fawn and two-for-one plastic.
The mushrooms grew blue and its spores were blue and it heaved them like cigarette smoke though the fawn’s tiny splayed ribs and then Drunk Betty – Bettina to her sad mother waiting at home – breathed them in.
It was a two-headed high.
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This story is part of the bestiary that Kingston artist/writer Darryl Joel Berger and I are building. Image/text is so much fun.
All photos Assiniboine Forest, Winnipeg, MB. February 20, 2014.
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I went walking in the Forest today. It was cold but there was so much sun and I hadn't been there for weeks and weeks...
We've towering heaps of rubbled snow everywhere. Turning into traffic, when the boulevards contains heaps taller than most people, makes more than a little nervous. And the snow mountain, where the city stores the snow scraped off the streets in the southern half of the city, looms over Route 90.
But here, the snow is thick and smooth, like a mattress laid over the fussiness - downed logs and shrubs and bleach-blonde grasses - of the forest.
I spent my walk shooting the things on top of the snow. And trundling through all that snow, when what I wanted to see wasn't close to the side of the path.
Our Winnipeg reading is a part of Kevin's Chapbook Tour of Canada in April and May, launching the two chapbooks he published this past year with Vancouver's The Alfred Gustav Press and Hamilton's serif of nottingham.