Category Archives: Birds

Car Trouble

1. Ontario is a province of periodic ice storms. Big ones, nasty ones, ones that come in big and powerful and loud and whose consequences linger for days on end.

Accidents are not meant to happen, but they happen anyway. From the outside looking in, watching the accident as it happens, it can sometimes seem less of an accident and more a twist of fate.

There was a terrible ice storm that hit Toronto years ago – not the one where the mayor called in the army, but one a few ice storms after that. Stephen and I had decided to drive back into the city after visiting my parents about hour or so away. The storm was gentle at first, just but a touch – a whisper really – of inclement weather that seemed innocent enough, weak enough, fleeting enough.

But then. Well.

But then it was too late.

Slowly, imperceptibly and then all at fucking once, the highway became slick with snow and ice; the highway was a waterslide, a slough of cold, wet malice. We inched along, pumping the brakes as we skidded here & there, to & fro, as side became front became side became back & front again, as we lost track of the lanes, as we lost all sense of direction and any semblance of hope.

All around us, cars, vans and trucks crashing into each other, skidding at wicked angles down wrong lanes, striking the median with their bumpers and hoods, plunging into ditches.

And yet somehow we made it. Whole, without one scratch, through the melee traffic. Not one scratch, despite the calamity, the sheer inevitably of it for everyone else, anyone else at all but us.

 

2. The bird darted out of the woods and smacked into the grill of the car so hard and so suddenly that it took a full moment to register what had happened, even as the windshield was showered by a burst of blue, white and black feathers. There was also some blood, but not as much as you might think. Just flecks. Nothing outwardly incriminating.

My field director was driving and all he could say at first was, “Huh.”

Pulling the car over to the side of the road allowed us to fully realize what had happened. It’s almost worse than I can tell: the bird had melded with the grill of the car. It was as if one had become the other. They had become inseparable, the car and, of all things, a Blue Jay. Rare enough to see one of those these days.

It could have hit any car, but it hit ours. It could have hit any car, so it hit ours.

Feathers of blue, white and black against chrome. Any car, really, there were so many out on the road that day. Or maybe even none at all. If only.

What kind of a luck is that? What events or factors or circumstances, like the planets above, had to align for that poor bird to so inelegantly thwack against a random/not so random car.

So many things.

Too many things to count, that are, finally, worth counting.

 

3. We had never had a flat tire before that flat tire, and never had one since (so far). It was summer and the drive was fine – smooth, uneventful – and then we started kind of thumping, tottering, hobbling Not exactly a pleasant sensation. Not one I’d recommend offhand.

We parked precariously on the side of a ditch. A cop stopped to ask us what we were up to (“Nothing going on here, is there folks?”), then piled back into his cruiser and drove away when it was clear the situation wasn’t any more nefarious than the changing of a flat tire. He honked, waved goodbye (“You got this.).

Neither of us had ever changed a tire before. It took us a long, long time but we managed to switch out the tire for its spare. Elated yet defeated (the plan had been to visit Stephen’s sister but we had spent too long changing the tire and it was too late), we got back on the road and turned off the next exit, homebound.

Days later my aunt told me she and my other aunt, their spouses and my cousins had passed us on the highway while we were stranded, in the ditch, attempting to change that tire.

“You looked like you needed help,” laughed her husband. They didn’t feel like stopping, it turns out, because then they would have had to take the exit and backtrack. No one wanted that. Who would want that?

Strange how a moment can bring you together or rip you apart. Funny how coincidence works itself out.

Years later, he lost all the money he and my aunt had, and they, in turn, lost their cars and their house and were forced to sell most of their things, including all their precious koi from the, frankly, undersized pond that held them.

They separated. A year later, he died.

Huh. Didn’t see that one coming, not by a long shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Death, Family, Nature, Relationships, THE PAST, Transportation

The Crow

FLASH MEMORY: my grandpa had a crow!

At least that’s what I remember, I think. I think I’m sure I do.

I remember being 5 or 6 years old. Coming in from a hot summer’s day, running up the red porch steps of his house and past the broken screen door with the holes in the mesh and into the kitchen to find it there, large and black and so alive, staring out from its wire cage which had been placed on top of the counter by the sink.

I remember its giant wings. Its sharp beak and the way its back sloped smoothly down toward its ragged tail feathers. Its sacred black eyes, blacker than black. My grandpa standing next to it, watching it with his one remaining eye.

Why did my grandfather have a crow? How long had he had it? What was he going to do with it?

Answers elude. Companionship? Husbandry? Admiration?

Or something else.

A day? A week? A month?

I can’t say.

And what indeed.

Grandma was there too, standing at the stove across from the sink, the crow, my grandpa. Standing with her back to me making soup, giant daikon sectioned neatly on her cutting-board.

Grandpa, Grandma, Crow. Sink, Stove. Wire Cage, Cutting-board. I stared at all three – at everything – burning the scene into my mind. No one said a word.

The crow beat its wings inside the cage.

***

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this memory, only its intensity, or what I like to think of as its tactile veracity. The truth behind the facts.

I don’t want to know if it is real or not. I want neither to confirm or deny but rather to indulge, let the image sit as it sits and shine or fall, fade or endure as it will.

My grandpa had a crow, with giant wings and eyes blacker than black. There was soup on the stove and sliced daikon arranged in neat piles on the cutting-board.

I can’t remember what my grandma looks like, not from memory.

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Family, Food, Hobbies, Pets, THE PAST

Found Objects

There are quite a few things in my house that I literally picked off the street, things people left out for other people to take…unless no one does, and those then things become garbage.

My former neighbourhood (two neighbourhoods before this one) was great for found objects; weekly treasures that sprang up with the morning dew like mushrooms. Most of the things were gently used, some were brand new (i.e. still in the packaging); others, decidedly not.

My former neighbourhood (one neighbourhood before this one) was pretty good for found objects, though they were more seasonal in nature, appearing like the harvest moon or showering the streets like meteorites.

My current neighbourhood is OK for found objects. They appear often enough, but not always, like good (or bad) weather, seemingly blowing in with the wind itself. Timing is key here.

Then there are the random neighbourhoods I pass through with their own rhyme, reason and rhythms for found objects. Timing is everything, in these places.

My current take from the streets thus far includes (but is not limited to):

  1. A sturdy red (seldom used) TV tray.
  2. Books in varying condition (mostly good, mostly celebrity autobiographies, cookbooks and textbooks with interesting pictures, maps and diagrams).
  3. A detail of Michelangelo’s “Birth of Man,” in a gilded frame.
  4. A metal, Tiffany-esque lamp (the kind with three settings…bright, Brighter, BRIGHTEST).
  5. Coffee mugs (more than a few, some of them funky).
  6. THIS MAGNIFICENT TWIN HORSE LAMP.

    IMG_9347

  7. A wooden owl. Decorative?
  8. Big-ass sea shells!
  9. A working Magic 8 Ball (found by my sister-in-law and generously gifted to me). Yes – definitely.
  10. Carabiners!
  11. An ornate black resin picture frame, of the kind you’d find at your great aunt’s house, or failing that, an off-the-beaten-track Winners.
  12. Like, so. Many. DVDs (including the an entire season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer).
  13. A kitchen mirror (non-haunted).
  14. Two 1,000 piece puzzles (one of doughnuts, one of shoes).

Will I ever stop finding things on the street and taking them home?

Hm.

There are…other ways to live, I’m sure, that don’t entail picking things off the street to use and enjoy in your home – ways involving, I dunno, yachts and oversize vases that accent the Roman pillars holding up the front entrance of your foyer. Or not.

There are places with foyers. And places without.

There are ways, certainly, like that.

That is very, very true.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Books, Hobbies, Places, Routines, Thrift

“My Love, My Love”

“Here you go, my love.”

“Thank you, my love.”

“My pleasure, my love.”

Oh, my love! My love, my love, my love!

They didn’t always do that, this couple I knew. I think they were trying it out, all this my love, my love, adding it to the repertoire of their L-O-V-E, which included (among other things) light (and heavy) petting, hair twirling, hands in each other’s pockets, random back rubs; big, wide smiles. Little quirks, neat tricks. Things to pull out during a lull in the night.

A friend, who was also witness to this romantic display, asked if they were like this all the time.

I don’t know. But I said that it did remind me of a parrot, an African Grey, I once saw at a pet store.

“Hello! Hello! Hello!” it said to anyone who approached the cage. It made a big show of it too.

“Hello! Hello! Hello!”

Did you know? African Greys are among one of the most intelligent birds on earth. They have been known, for example, to outperform children as old as 4 on certain tests, and can learn and build upon a rather impressive collection of words and concepts.

“Hello! Hello! Happy Birthday!”

Did you know that?

The pet store Grey didn’t. At least, I don’t think so.

So it was easy to be charmed by the bird, with its precious words, cute mannerisms and bright, shiny feathers. So it was easy to just go with it, enjoy the show – my love, or no.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Emotion, Friends, Pets, Relationships, Ritual

Open Secrets, Vol. 14

  • MIGHTY RHINOPITHECUS
  • Good Bones vs. Bad Teeth
  • So don’t do it.
  • “Authentic” is a slippery slope, my friend.
  • Lucky Numbers: 8, 73, 31, 5, 10578974, 2.
  • The shortest month with the longest days.
  • TAWNY FROGMOUTHS.
  • Never mind minding the odds.
  • Predict tomorrow.
  • Open Concept vs. Closed Mind
  • “Chewsday.”
  • Spiderman —> Spidermen —> Spidermens
  • Tough call. But impossible?
  • SAIGA ANTELOPES.
  • Nuts to that.
  • Cold Tea vs. Hot Take
  • Sketchy, shady people everywhere!
  • Omens: black cats, cracked mirrors, overcast brows, sour beer, mismatched CrocsTM.
  • She gets it.
  • Bad dubs ruin lives.
  • ANY NUDIBRANCH.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Change, Fashion, People, Science, Secrets, THE FUTURE

La Chasse Aux Canards

Growing up, my parents, my mother especially, periodically had fits of home improvement that often manifested in schemes to re-decorate the house.

One time, it was all new lamps (i.e. all the lamps in the house, replaced, with new ones).

One time, they let my aunt’s idiotic boyfriend spray-paint the kitchen cabinets so that they looked like stone – the dark grey textured type you’d find inside derelict amusement park rides (jungle themed or the like), or a poorly drawn cartoon.

One time, they decided paint was passé and wallpapered all the bedrooms, including mine.

My parents. They were (and remain) the “Children are meant to be seen and not heard” type. Which meant they picked out the wallpaper and did not consult us or take any protest on our part either seriously or at all. Which was fine with my siblings and I because we’d long resigned ourselves to living in a cramped house with loud tastes where everything, invariably, clashed. An amusement park ride, of sorts, of its very own.

You had to laugh. You just had to.

They wallpaper my parents picked out for me had dogs on it, at least.

“You like dogs. I got you dogs,” my mom said. “There,” she said, a word with as much finality in our house as, “So, there” or “The End.”

I did like dogs (I do). And was actually surprised that my mom had made such a concession in her decorating on my behalf.

Except. Interspersed with the dogs (a trio of spotted hounds) across the beige and brown background of the wallpaper were long cattail reeds, ducks in various stages of flight and men with guns. Muskets, actually.

A duck hunt frozen mid-frame repeated ad nauseam and plastered across the four walls of my bedroom. I would not have known what to do with such a scene – such a substance as that wallpaper – had I known beforehand that it even existed. But then, just like that, it was in my life and would remain so until we moved from the house, many years later.

I often think about my childhood bedroom as a sanctuary (I had a lock on the door and was generally left alone when in there). But then I remember the wallpaper and remind myself that freedom can be as much a luxury as it is a joke. Concessions can be their own intrusions, dogs or no.

There were men on my wall shooting at ducks.

Sometimes I imagined the ducks got away; other times the dogs or men got them. Eventually, I learned not to see men or ducks or dogs and just let the wallpaper be wallpaper.

Come to think of it: I never thanked my parents for the wallpaper. A part of me thinks that that’s only fair, but then we were never talking about fair, not here or anywhere even remotely close to it.

Were we?

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Change, Family, THE PAST

The Swan

“Mr. Fister,[*] Cindy wants a swan!”

“Well,” said Fister, looking directly at my face and smiling the way animals do when issuing some imminent threat, “then she can ask for one.”

The exchange was a surprise; I was hovering in the doorway of the school’s Hospitality class waiting for Dolly so we could walk home.

I was not angling for a swan, one of dozens of confectionary creations made that afternoon by the class for parents’ night.

I did not want a swan. I did not want to ask for a swan. The swans looked chalky to me, dry and especially pathetic. They looked like uneven, bottom-heavy worms that tapered upwards into a vague S-shape with two dark sprinkles for eyes and a gob of icing for a beak.

They looked like hell.

Dolly looked at me expectedly. Mr. Fister tucked his small teeth under the greying hair of his handlebar mustache.

Hell is.

“Mr. Fister, can I have a swan?”

Mr. Fister watched as I reluctantly plucked a swan at random; one from among the demented flock before me. That was probably the worst part: that despite everything, I had also brought this on myself.

I took one bite: I was right. It was chalky, dry. It tasted like stale, hollowed-out bread. And something else, far more distasteful…

The incident remains largely forgotten in my daily life. But sometimes, when I encounter ugly birds or badly-executed desserts or unseemly, overbearing men, or when Dolly again does something that particularly annoys, I remember that foul-tasting little swan, the only innocent among the four of us that day.

 

________________________________________________

[*] Was “Fister” even his real name? If it ever mattered, it doesn’t now.

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Education, Family, People, School, THE PAST

Wayward Birds

Who now?

I have a friend who went to ornithology camp.

What?

Bird Camp.

Do you know what they do at bird camp?

They set up great big nets in the sky, between tall, sturdy trees, nets like immense spiders’ webs; strong but gentle, and catch birds. They do that so that they can tag the birds, count, measure and weigh them.

But why?

For science.

How, exactly?

They use used (well, used up) toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls to hold the birds – the nuthatches and swallows and the occasional indigo bunting – to keep them still and calm and immobilized. Very science.

And did you know, though, what they use to hold the big birds? The hawks and harriers and the occasional owl? Bird nerds need to bind the big birds, those big birds, too.

Pringles containers.

Imagine that. And also the places they had go.

Where then?

Imagine, (see it now), bird nerds descending on Costco or Walmart or 7-11 or Shoppers to buy Pringles – sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, barbeque – and eating the chips or not eating the chips just to have someplace to put a wayward falcon.

Imagine wayward falcons.

I sometimes wonder what that’s like: to love something, not someone, that much. To make that extra effort, just to see it through.

To let something define you, if not wholly, but indelibly somehow, so that it sticks with you even as you go on with the rest of your life. And then you tell someone else about it.

Can you imagine that? I’d like to think I can.

I’d like to think I can.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Friends

For The Birds

 
A family of robins moved into my yard. Two adults, two fat fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

The fledglings eat constantly, and it is a wonder how many worms the adults manage to find to feed them day after day after day.

I was thrilled at first. These delightful visitors, my guests, evidence of life happening!

And then the lawn furniture. The patio, the spot under the tree where I like to read.

Bombarded. Destroyed with the collective birdshit of two adults, two fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

That fat little bastard, who eats all the worms then perches over my spot, more than seems necessary.

Do you see me, little bird? Can you see me watching you? I know what you are doing. I see you.

Fat Bastard Bird

So it occurs to me that the robins have perhaps worn out their welcome. They have turned theory into practice and ruined it with consequence.

And of course, they haven’t done anything.

They are birds.

That is what I tell myself now, because I can.

Shit happens.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Emotion, Hobbies