Sunday, May 12, 2019

Auf Wiedersehen Fimbulwinter und Der Struwwelpeter 

Classic Shockheaded Pete. Image via Washington University Library

Last weekend, many a media concern heralded the arrival of the cherry blossoms, a sure sign that not only had spring arrived but that the shackles of a monstrous winter, Fimbulwinter in Old Norse, had been broken. I like to think of winter’s chains as a chastity belt repressing the natural world from doing its thang. Yet it was not to be. Despite a warm sunny Sunday the buds of cherry trees were still shuttered closed, pregnant with blossomy colour indeed but still closed in their husk. The excitement around the cherry blossoms has reached such a fever in recent years perhaps due to social media that the City worried that the crush of visitors would need to be curtailed. In a brief shining moment of the rarest form of bureaucratic wisdom the city took the measures of banning cars from High Park for the duration of the flowering trees (with 2000 cherry trees donated from Japan it has the highest concentration in Toronto) and publishing an online map of other significant locations of cherry trees in the city.

I, thinking myself a very clever boy, took it upon myself to visit what looked like the most unlikely spot to view nature of any kind. Apparently there is a stand of cheery cherry trees to be found at the junction of Cherry Street and Villiers Street, which is one of the few truly industrial areas left in the City of Toronto. There are film “studios” here (also known as faceless warehouses) along with a nearby large concrete facility that maintains silos of slurry to fill the thousands of concrete trucks feeding Toronto’s construction frenzy. There is a small mountain of surplus road salt covered with tarps weighed down by old truck tires which is kept by the Ministry of Transportation and Destruction of Water Tables. There is a canal where large tankers can turn around when delivering salt, sand and sugar, three of the four main ingredients of modernity (fat being the fourth of course). This is a place movie productions film dystopian futures, because it is a place of dirt, broken roads, garbage and the shadows provided by the falling Eastern Gardiner Expressway. The air is full of heavy metal particulate, dust, sewage, the sounds of wild dogs barking, the droning din of highway traffic, overhead helicopters and ascending and descending aircraft. It is not a place easily brightened by a few colour tree buds. It is even less brightened by naked branches of trees looking for all the world like they were dead.

Toronto's most uninspiring view.

The buds of these trees were still in hiding, and who could blame them, but my own blooming spring look had already taken place. For months I’ve adorned a beard best described as a bundle of twigs dusted with icing sugar (because I’m so sweet). With aplomb I trimmed, pruned and decimated the winter beard. So long Struwwelpeter. Sayonara Shock-headed Pete! It felt freeing and terrific to cast off my castaway look. Yet, I missed it. Or my face missed it. Suddenly my chin looked pale, small and doughy. How was my face so small? I hardly recognized myself without my cloak of hair. Bald faced and shivering, how could I go out into the world?

I immediately started growing it back like the darling buds of May. The beard is dead, long live the beard! Vivat barba!

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