Sunday, December 29, 2013

Life/Death, Christmas and Ice Storms

White (from the Fragile Series)   60x72"   oil/cold wax on canvas © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves

Fragile.  It's the name I gave to the series of paintings currently on exhibit at the Burlington Art Centre in Burlington, Ontario.  I was responding to the illness of a friend.  Little did I know then that I would have my own brush with fragility not once but twice during the month of December.

Early in the month I was driving on a two-lane tree-lined road about 5km from home.  It was 5:45pm.  The roads were dry but it was dark.

I heard the noise first. Something big hit the left side of my car.  In the next instant, the body of a deer completely covered my windshield. The glass shattered with the force of it.  I thought it was going to come in on top of me.  But it flew off as quickly as it had landed. I drove on, stunned and covered in glass, trying to see out of the smashed windshield, the wind whistling through the gaping holes.  I decided not to stop. I was close to home and the shoulder of the highway is too small there, the embankment too steep.  

I drove into my garage and looked around me.  Glass covered me and the passenger seat. I couldn't get out the driver's door because it was badly smashed.  I crawled across the glass to get out the passenger side. It was only then that I began to shake from the shock of it.  I had come through unscathed.  Not a bump or a scratch. The air bag hadn't deployed. I was safe.

I relived the incident a few more times in my mind afterward, wondering at my good luck that I didn't lose control of the car. It's a matter of seconds, that line between life and death.  Had I been a second or two earlier, I would have likely seen the deer and swerved.  A second or two later and the deer would have gone through the driver's window and been on top of me.  My timing was right that day or perhaps the gods were with me. Or both.

I drove down the road a few days later with my rental car to check for the deer. I couldn't find any sign of it. The gods might have been with the deer too. 

And then on December 21st, an ice storm hit my area of Ontario.  I was OK for a while with my wood stove and headlamp,  candles and propane cooktop.  But as the ice built up on the enormous cedars that surround my house and line my driveway, they began to snap like matchsticks.  I was terrified one or more would come through my roof.  So I packed up my things and the turkey dinner fixings and went to my daughter's house to stay for a few days.  I came home each day to light the wood stove and heat up the house a little. I was struck by how quickly a home that once was a place of peace and refuge can become a cold and fearful building.  The dishes were unwashed and piled up, jugs of drinking water sat on the counter because the water pump doesn't work when the power is out. Wood chips were scattered over the floor from the  endless loads of firewood I dragged in to warm the house up.  I could see my breath inside my house, and wore my down jacket and hat to keep warm until the wood stove warmed it up a little.

Finally, yesterday, after seven days without power, a neighbour called me at my daughter's to tell me that the power had been restored.  I drove home excited to finally get back to a more normal life.  But as I drove down the driveway, I was met with a wall of cedar trees some of which had fallen down and some that were bent like contortionists right down to the road.  There was no room to drive my car in.  I couldn't even crawl under them.

It is a miracle how people help you when you are in trouble.  A very kind local tree man came to my rescue last night. Working in the dark by the light from his truck's headlamps, he cut down the fallen and bowed cedars, clearing my driveway so I could get through.

It was a month of disasters and miracles, of beauty and terror.  Our family celebrated a joyful Christmas at my daughter's house, and Santa came as usual.  But through the experiences of the ice storm and being hit by the deer, I have been clearly reminded of my own fragility and that of my home, the trees and the land.  We come to depend on the constancy of things, that we will travel safely down the road as we normally do, that our home will be there, unharmed when we come back to it, that the trees that give us shade and beauty will still stand. It's easy to forget that life is fragile and that the only constant is change.  I expect to continue my work on fragility.  I have an even more personal relationship with it now.


  1. God, what an experience(s). First off, glad you made it through but I have to tell ya, I was on pins and needles until I finished reading the post. Yes, it's amazing how volatile the universe can be...blessings one moment and challenges the next...Good luck with the rest of your work on "Fragility." As much as it sounds like there's more depth, resonance and meaning to the word now, I hope this concludes first hand knowledge of it for a while...

    Best, Jean

  2. Hi Jean, I also hope this concludes my first hand experience! Enough with the depth already!