snow and steel: a tale of winter magic

March had a tantrum today. Rain on sleet on snow, blown around with an angry bluster. Hard to keep one's chin up on these days. Summer seems like a distant, hazy dream and today's meteorological mayhem a cruel nightmare you can't awake from.

So I want to tell a story about a little bit of winter magic that we stumbled upon some weeks ago. I don't mean the rabbit-in-hat, pull-a-quarter-from-your ear kind of magic. But the kind of magic where, if you're able to suspend linear, rational thinking for a little bit, delightful things happen.

It was a mild Sunday afternoon, a little grey, but still snowy enough for a family outing to Mount Royal park. It was truly lovely, the park was filled with people enjoying a winter weekend - skating, sledding, walking. We hadn't been the most motivated gang that day so it was getting on in the afternoon by the time we even got outside. As we frolicked in the snow with Milo, he suddenly stopped and caught the eye of a lone gentleman walking the nearby path. He stared so intently the man literally stopped in his tracks and came toward us. My initial reaction was wary ~ this park is known for its strange characters, sometimes~ but his twinkly eyes and welcoming smile quashed my reservations. And he cooed over our child, which always wins me over. We talked briefly of the joys of children, of photography (we had our camera out) and, with a goodbye to Milo, he started to walk away. He hesitated for a moment, like he had something more he wanted to tell us, then shook his head and started walking again. He stopped again and asked which direction we were headed. We told him and he nodded. Silence. "Have you heard of the secret sculpture in the trees?" I suddenly felt like the air thicken around us and our voices quieted conspiratorially. Legend has it that Armand Vaillancourt, noted Quebec sculptor, had hidden a metal sculpture in the tree canopy of Mount Royal Park. Now this twinkly-eyed stranger, called to us by our one-year-old, was handing us a quest to go find it. He drew us a treasure map in the snow and we embarked on our epic search for the secret statue, hurrying to beat the fading light.

For years, he had walked the park, looking for the statue and had finally come upon it just this morning. I could sense that he was torn between sharing his incredible find and revealing a long-held secret. In fact, he wouldn't tell us where it was for a while, waiting to ensure, I imagine, that his secret fell on receptive ears. And this, you see, is where the magic comes in: Milo drew this man to us, as if he knew the man had a story to tell. And because of this brief, surreal conversation with a man we didn't know, we found ourselves veering off the path into the deep snow of the darkening forest, craning our necks twords the treetops. Milo cooed appreciatively from his sled, oblivious to the wet snowsuit and chilly toes. This was his doing, after all. Bare branches danced against the twilight sky, their silhouettes teasing our imagination. I was seeing sculptures everywhere.

Then I spotted it. Its angular limbs were well camouflaged but once spotted, you wonder how you could ever have missed it in the first place. It was a climber, high above our heads, captured in graceful ascent of a huge maple, his ice axe frozen in a wide arc above his head. I wonder where he was headed, what he was trying to see. I must have walked past this spot over a hundred times since I was a little girl and he was there the whole time, focused on his next move, stealthily making his way up the tree. I almost can't explain the delight this moment brought me. It was like a window into the soul of the city, a perfect melding of man and nature. And it spoke of how our human constructs and the natural world, are inseparable.

Oh, it spoke to me of a lot of things. But there was a louder voice, speaking of hunger, darkness, wet and cold. And so we crashed back out onto the path with the last bit of light and headed for home. Still wrapped in our magic winter quest.

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