It’s Saturday. Cloudy and very cold. After two months of winter here I can distinguish between the soft glow of a not so cold morning, and the drab quietness of a chilly, cloudy one.
Not that I am worried or anything. It’s weather. You cannot change it, you can only accept it. In this case by dressing warmly and heading out. I told the boys I have a surprise for them that involves visiting the river banks. We eat apple pancakes and chat.
“What’s the surprise?” they ask. Spilling a few of the beans makes it more appealing, especially with the drab look of this cold morning. There’s birds there, lots of them. They’ve seen ducks and geese before, but the day before I saw swans. You have to see them, I tell the boys. Their feet are big and black and their bodies are huge and white. Who knew swans are so big?
We have to be there by 11am I announce. They tilt their heads. Why 11 and not later? Well, the answer hides the last part of my surprise. So let’s not miss it.
We arrive and see a potpourri of birds brushing over the half-frozen river towards a certain spot on the shore. That’s our destination, the very spot.
But what is it, they ask. You’ll see. If you hurry a bit that is, so you won’t miss it. We step off the path and down towards the water, and get engulfed by a sea of ducks, geese and swans. Some eat like their plane is going down, other flap their wings, geese honk that familiar honk that sounds so off-key but it’s also so familiarly lovable, swans circle an elderly man crouched over a bag of grains. That’s a feeding frenzy for you. The elderly man comes every day with a couple of bags of oats to feed them. I met him the day before during a walk and thought the boys might like to see the feeding festival.
“They have very little to eat when it’s this cold,” he tells us. They know him by now – he’s been doing this for a couple of years – and are not spooked at all when he puts his hand out to feed them. He’s brought some old bread too, so the boys get handfuls of it and feed the birds. A couple of grey swan youngsters dare to snatch straight from the boys’ hands. There’s giggling and big eyes caused by that slight scare that an approaching bird can cause in a boy whose eyes are at the same level with the bird’s eyes. You try it.
The elderly man and I chat about kindness, how it’s the one often-forgotten thing that could make the world better. Ideally. We thank the man and walk further down the river on frozen snow. There is thick ice at the shore and a hundred meters down the whole river is frozen solid and the ice is so thick that you could cross to the other side.
The boys ask about the man. They were impressed with his kindness. That’s a good thing he does, right, mom? Yes, it is. Are you going to write about him in the paper? No, he will most likely not make it into my column I tell them. Because that could get him in trouble since some people do not agree with his daily visits (he hinted towards that) and might stop the feeding of the birds.
But kindness means… I know, the irony. Kindness as a way of living. It should work like a charm. It doesn’t and I’d hate to be the initiator of an action that might affect the man. Kindness should never be reprimanded but you never know. I’ve heard stories of well-intended people doing something that turns ugly. So I’ll hold onto our little adventure and that’s that. I’d say kindness as a generalized state of being in a society is an ideal, but not quite the reality. Perhaps I’m wrong so feel free to explain your side.
We stop by ice plaques, test their thickness and then step on them. They are extremely slippery, and under them the water clicks and whooshes, slower near the shore than in the middle of the river. A reminder that daring explorers and rivers are not always a good combo. So we retreat. We’re cold but the boys want to explore some more of the shores before heading home.
We find feathers, orange pebbles and talk about the experience of feeding the birds. I knew it’ll make an impression. They want to come back soon. We will. In the distance the geese honk their off-key but familiarly lovable honk and I cannot understand how they can walk on those icy shore bare feet and all. That’s probably because I’m getting chilled just seeing all that icy slush the river carries… But it’s winter, and that’s what rivers do in winter, no?