Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: birds

The Case of Bird vs. People

It’s a beautiful and yet uneasy feeling. Walking into a territory where you belong but do not speak the language or even barely understand what the high and low notes mean. That’s what an ordinary morning does: it turns on you. The guest, you.

Pup and I walk the couple of blocks to the park and then we let loose. She’s off her leash, allowed by higher authorities than me, and I am off mine (everyday rush and craziness). A couple of crows swoop close enough but not like last year’s bullies that almost got me twice. Not yet anyway. Building nests and having babies is serious business, I know that. Humans can meddle, as they’ve shown on many an occasion. We’re on the black list, no pun intended, and the crows show it when they have a chance.

Pup and I hike the hill taking the narrow steep trail, all the way to the top. If you steer a gentle left you leave the highway buzz behind and the crystal-clear song of a meadowlark (now I know) reaches straight into your soul as if to show what you’re missing on when immersed in urban cacophony.

Just like that, you’re hooked; you’ll be seeking this cascade of sounds every morning. I do. The meadowlark perches herself (himself?) on the very top of the tree and delivers a loud, clear and perfectly harmonized song it makes me wonder the same every time: where does so much sound come from when the body is so puny?

I choose to think of it as a greeting. I am no birder, hence sweet ignorance protects my feelings. It could be a threat call (pup and I are the threat, again), or it could be a song delivered despite our presence there for other purposes. My new reading ‘What the Robin Knows’ (author John Young) is building a pyramid of question marks in my head. The more I read, the clearer it becomes: I know nothing of birds. I thought I did, a bit. Sweet ignorance, how thick your veil.

The resident hawk I often see swooping from a scraggly tall dead-looking (I know it’s not) Ponderosa pine dances rather than flies. Elegance. I think of us humans walking, often waddling, hunched forward, ungraciously forgetting to even breathe deep enough in our rush, forgetting to look up at the sky, overwhelmed by problems, often self-created, painful many of them yet diligently maintained. Yes, I envy the hawk easiness of being…Grace.

Robins. We saw two this morning, possibly a couple. Staring as if to detect our intentions. Friendly. How do I say that in bird language? I stop and stare. They’re beautiful and remind me of my mom. Here’s why.

One flies away to get the pup’s attention. Protecting a mate perhaps. The one left on the branch looks at me. I am fascinated, mute in my delight and sorrowful in how most of us humans have forgotten to sit quietly and observe… Sparrows dart every which way, cheeky and cheery, even on a rainy day. The life continuum sketched by outstretched wings, chirps, and intentions I will most likely never be able to interpret.

The other day I found a dead bird on the side of the path. As if asleep, its tiny body frozen yet soft to the touch. Light as feathers… patches of sparkling yellow on its sides and head, beautiful gray and charcoal ones adorning the body, wings and tail; delicate black feet. The boys and I identified it; an Audubon warbler. One less song. Warblers sing just because, for the love of it… I would have never known. It took this bird on the side of the path. Why did it die, the boys asked? I had no answer. Quiet reverence as death stares us in the face. So easy to forget we’re all due one. Infatuation over our self-proclaimed superiority doesn’t help when humility is needed.

We know so little. It’s easy to let go when you know little. There’s but one answer: we ought to learn more. Understanding even a fragment of that continuum; the language of songs that fill mornings with wonder, with panic, with love, with sounds that perpetuate life. Our songs are the same, except that we sing inwardly and mostly forget to do so by the time we need it the most. We ought to relearn, we ought to rediscover serenity, grace, and that sliver of gratefulness… the robin knows…

Because Birds Happen

I never had a bird land on my shoulder. Until today that is, during the morning walk with the dog and while stopping for a chat with an elderly gentleman we often see around the neighbourhood.

Of all people, the bird singled me out, even though I had a puppy connected to me. Go figure. Brave little soul you could say. Clingy too, since it would not respond to the usual ‘shoo’ that all birds find unappealing and scary enough to take off.

Nope, not this one.

It hopped on my hand and at that moment I suggested the open spaces around us. Again, most birds would go, right? Not this one.

So I gave it a gentle shake and said go. The bird claimed deafness. What next? For the record, I have always been an animal lover and collector at times. Many a fallen baby bird went through the streamlined rehabilitation program I had running as a kid. Stray cats and dogs too. Even a hedgehog, though that one thought he could do better without. We parted with no hard feelings as my hands were full at that time with other critters.

My parents were patient, yes, and mighty understanding of their daughter’s propensity to bring home animals of all kinds. That was then. Now I thought things were pretty clear: we own a beta fish, red and lively, and a puppy, also lively but not red, and my quota is full. My days are filled to the brim with boys learning at home, puppy love and care, writing, gardening and all the other things that happen during a day that allows you but short breaks to sigh and be grateful. Because I am, really.

20160614_084943I do not need a bird though. The where and how have to be figured out and though thjis qualifies as a homeschooling experience alright, I cannot show up for meetings, on Skype or otherwise, with a bird on my shoulder. I am no pirate, though the shoulder-loving bird thinks otherwise.

Sasha’s teacher kindly identified it as a starling. They are an invasive species; very smart and able to learn to talk. Right. Who would not want a talk-back bird when they have two kids already doing that at times and a dog too (barking back)? Well… me, that’s who.

So to review: bird lands on shoulder during morning walk, does not want to rejoin its wild world but sticks with the newly found parental figure, comes home and promptly tries its wings in the kitchen landing on heads, shoulders, and everything else that is not a wall.

Puppy becomes extremely well-behaved sensing that a new baby may be taking the much-coveted place in my heart. Console puppy, reassure puppy, secretly and totally enjoying the sudden sweet demeanour. Acquaint dog with bird and realize that friendship may be possible after all. Emphasis on ‘may’.

Where are we now bird-wise: the high density of crows in the back yard plus the occasional cat prevent us from releasing Star (little boy’s suggestion) out for now, so we are using Poppy’s crate as bird safe space until we return from Forest School. We hop on bus, follow a trail to Peterson Creek Park where school takes place today. I binge on Saskatoon berries, my comfort food.

Today’s task (on top of the many others): figure out the animal shelter situation.

For now I am hiding in a coffee shop, working on a couple of articles and pretending that I am just an ordinary human with nothing extraordinary to report… except for the bird landing on my shoulder, the dog begging me to reconsider bird adoption, and the boys shielding their breakfast from Star, the new addition who might or might not leave us. I know, most birds would. Not this one though.

All The Birds Of A River

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?


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