Drama Out the Kitchen Window

I introduced you to Mr. & Mrs. of 2018 a few short weeks ago.  That was before the snow and the storms that seemed to go on and on in April.  While House Sparrows aren’t my favourite (is anyone crazy about them?) because they are such sloppy eaters and are  actually pretty violent with one another, I’ve been, for years, fond of the nesters because I’ve learned so much about bird nesting behaviour and a couple’s determination.  Conveniently located across from my kitchen window, my neighbour’s vent has been home to several mating couples, most unsuccessful with fledglings…except for last year, the first successful year in a while.

The past two mornings, pouring my first cup of coffee, I’ve seen this guy pop out…

While I love a Northern Flicker down at the river’s edge, moving into the core of dead elms…I don’t like seeing this!  For one, what of my nesters?  Well, Mr. was inside the vent at the same time, because shortly after this photo was taken, Mr. appeared from within, barking at the world and quite upset.

On April 17, when I first noticed the Northern Flicker demanding entrance into the vent, I also saw Mrs. after the entrance and departure.  I have no idea the state of the nest or if there are any viable eggs at this point.  On the 17th, early in the morning, I told my son, “We must have a hatch over at the nest because Dad is acting very cocky and agitated.”

But…as soon as the Flicker fiasco was behind them, Mr. began to do this…bopping in and out, removing nesting materials and dropping them outside of the nest.

Our neighbourhood, once spring is in full bloom, is a favourite hang out for Magpies and Crows.  I’ve seen Magpies clinging to the edges of this vent, with beak fully immersed, on the attack.  Northern Flickers are known for being destructive as they peck away for insects and spiders that tuck themselves under the edging of house siding.  I don’t think it would be a wonderful thing to see a couple nesting anywhere near here.  If they are scavenging and feeding here, also not a good thing.

I have no choice but to watch and learn.  I suppose my readers would have reported all of this to their neighbours by now.  I’ve wondered that myself.

For the Birds

I’m not editing anything here…just came home for dinner and decided to post a quick remembrance of the visit to the Bow River after teaching today.

I thought I was looking at another flock/murmuration? of European Starlings, but what I was looking at was a tree full of Bohemian Waxwings.  I was really pleased because apart from a couple of sightings at the pond, this one is uncommon for me to observe.  The grey of late afternoon made everything visually flat, a most difficult atmosphere for photography, but it certainly didn’t stop the drama of absolutely everything at the river.  It makes me so happy to see that there is a huge melt going on right now and there are some habitats beginning to reveal themselves.

I’ve seen so many stunningly unbelievable photographs published by birder/photographer friends of Bohemian Waxwings that I am a bit embarrassed to post my very best.  And of course this little guy had to show me his very best side, didn’t he?

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I’ve captured just a very few of the Waxwings that hung out with me…

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Once again, I enjoyed the sound of the male pheasants gobbling from above the ridge and saw them strutting about, their brilliant red and green, signature colour, on the otherwise grey-gold hill.

There were the Crows caw cawing…the Robins perching…the Northern Flickers dancing and calling…and the Common Golden Eye males doing their hilarious back bends to impress the females who looked both bored and disinterested.

But…the most amazing thing I saw today was first, to see all of the gulls lift off the snow pack in unison, at the river’s edge.  Gazing across the river, I surmised that one of the Bald Eagles was fishing and so I looked across…not above.  Oh my goodness!  There, flying directly above my head and only meters away, was one of the Juveniles, on a serious bird hunt!  I don’t know how to pan or how to focus on a moving target, so none of it came out as a well-told visual narrative.  I guess that’s why I’m writing.  I could cry right now, it was so bloody amazing!

First…a loud cacophony of gull sounds and whoosh…they lifted up.  This is all that my camera picked up…but, I will remember.

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The juvenile Bald Eagle hovered above me…struck downward…up again…down.  Moments later, he left me, crossed the river and perched in a tree.  This was such a distance away, by this point, that I can hardly do the experience any justice at all.  But…there is the telling…

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I decided to stand there and watch.  By this time, another bird watcher had joined me on the bridge.  I asked him if he had witnessed what I just did and he acknowledged the magic.  I thought that, for certain, this juvenile was looking to eat and that we should be prepared for the next spectacle…instead, something more amazing happened.

From seemingly nowhere, this guy arrived.

 

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He’s been protective of the nest and a very supportive partner.  Mrs. has been sitting on eggs through the past ten or so days, enduring horrible winter temperatures and lots of snow.  The two adult Bald Eagles have been working together beautifully and I’ve watched the delivery of several lovely big fish.

There was no way he was going to let an intruder close in on the nest or his territory!  (even if that intruder is his own)

He swooped out and over the river and aggressively bolted toward the juvenile, who then also lifted off, heading north on the river.  The adult, angry, bolted at its rear, wings on both, flailing this way and that…it was beyond exquisite!  Those of us who saw this all unfold were in awe and squealing in delight.

There is a very good chance that this two year old is the adults’ own progeny.  Once raised, I believe the adults do not accept their youngsters back.  It is brutal, but a fact of nature.  There are the next babes to protect and raise up.  This young fellow is on his own.

 

There was magic to be found at the river today.

The Power of Every Day: April 9, 2018

The Power of Every Day

It is April 9, 2018 for just a short while longer.

I was downloading photographs off my Canon Powershot…birds, of course. I clicked something in the process of fiddling with the files on my desk top and images surfaced from past April 9ths and I take pause.

I’m going to slow this writing down a little. I’m going to back-track. Yesterday morning I was feeling downhearted. News has been very sad lately. We had just endured more bitterly cold days and another 15 cms. of snow. I was just heavy-hearted for a lot of reasons. I received a message from my friend Michael. He said that he was up for some naturing. The weather was taking a turn for the better and the sun was out.

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We sat ourselves down on a bench at the river, after enjoying a leisurely walk right to the river’s edge. I watched a Downy Woodpecker, from where we sat. The brilliant white gulls flew overhead. Michael plugged in a bit of Ram Dass and we took pause and listened. For both of us, Toe Knee came to mind. Then we talked about death. We talked about the releasing of everything…power, ego, money, objects, even friends and family. We grieved the loss of so many who suffer addiction, hopelessness, overdose, hunger…we talked about trauma. I know. It all seems pretty dark. But, truth is, we don’t talk about some of the things that really matter. And that is why the pain sometimes continues to go on in the background.

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Michael made me cry when he told me that the paintings that my students do are an expression of the artist in me. I was grateful for the remark. And so, today, I began my day by painting with grade threes…this, after walking Max, drinking my two cups of home brew and moving, dazed, through all of the morning rituals that began April 9, 2018.

First…my photograph of the little Mrs. She only pops her head out briefly during the morning, when Mr. heads out in search of sustenance. He is usually on guard at the vent, repeating his vocalizations again and again. This morning came with her sweet face.

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The children are beautiful, as they enter into a magical silence and become completely consumed by the process of creating.

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Small conversations about Easter break…hugs from friends I have made over the years…a really great conversation about Reconciliation and the Metis with a teacher I had met some years ago…a young student, now in grade five, putting out the question, “Do you remember me?” Number lines and plotting data, first events in stories, agendas, recess, mixing of paint, sunlight filling the room, fruit yogurt, spelling digraphs gh/ph/f…wallpaper in closets…dates in calendars…logging in and logging out…the drive to and from.

Max and I at the river…releasing. We stood under a tree and big chunks of wood began dropping onto both of us. He would shake. I would brush off. Again and again. I looked up to find this guy, ravenously chipping through the flesh of the tree.

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…and this guy observing all.

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…and this guy scooting into the tall grass.

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…and this above and around me.

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…and these two courting.

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Not to mention, these two.

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April 9 was a particularly beautiful day, as it turns out. My first born took a drive to Lethbridge today with my grandson and these two photographs, make my heart sing…Steven with his Great Granny Batsford and his Great Grampa Bergman….and soon he will meet his Great Grampa Moors. What a blessed boy! and how blessed we are by him!

Granny Batsford and Steven

Grampa Bergman and Steven

And as I downloaded my photographs onto my desktop computer, April 9, 2013 photographs surfaced. I was given the memory of my mother’s hands…and the memory of the work that she did in her life.

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April 9, 2013 Mom's Hands Folding Sheets

These were a little gift for me.

The day is almost gone and I am left with a feeling about just how powerful a single day can be. I hope to be mindful about each day I am given. I hope to remember the lesson that this day has given.

May the Blue Bird of Happiness…

Recently, I’ve been feeling as though nature is brutal!  I heard yesterday that our weather hasn’t been like this since 1940.  I’m not going to research to see if this is fact, but, I would have no difficulty believing it is true.  Weather impacts my feelings about almost everything.  Since the light has changed, it has given hope of spring and certainly makes the day feel more beautiful…but this cold!  And the snow!  YIKES!

At the river, I’m wondering about the natural cycles of all of these returning birds…how they will possibly sustain their populations, given this week’s temperatures of -14 and more snow and more snow.  The habitat just doesn’t seem to be available for nesting.  What are the pregnant does to do? The coyotes that have begun to den?  So…every evening and morning, as I walk at the Bow River, I contemplate nature and its ability to rise above such brutality.  When I return home, I have heat and electricity and unlike some countries and continents, I am not in fear (at the moment) of the flood, or horrid drought and raging fires.  I am so blessed.  I am safe.

I’m discovering wildlife in unusual places.  Geese are nesting, only meters away from Deerfoot Trail and a huge distance from the river.  I noticed them yesterday, huddled together, where the tall grasses emerge out of the cold snow.  This afternoon, no fewer than thirty American Wigeons were voraciously struggling for sustenance well above the river and in close proximity to human activity.  This was a first for me.

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The most remarkable thing, however, was to see at least five Mountain Bluebirds, flitting about in a mating dance and feeding on berries that remained clinging sadly to a winter shrub…

This sighting was a deeply personal experience for me…I felt as though these lovely birds were placed into this settling, just for me.  In fact, I tried waving down some other hikers to point them out and they waved and moved on, not taking a moment’s notice.  Have I lost it completely? (I’d like to thank Doug Newman for letting me know that they were hanging about…this was my first encounter and I was thrilled to learn that they are absolutely NOT shy.  Their antics were more than entertaining!)

I wrote about the Crucifixion a little bit on Friday morning…I look at this post as being about Resurrection.  The males were more than impressing the two females present…such charmers.  I am grateful for those species that will find renewal over the coming months.  We must be ever-vigilant in our care of our world, for the people living in it, and for these sentient beings that share the planet with us.  Probably more bluebird photographs than any of you might wish to see…but, I am experiencing such joy that I have no choice but to include them here.

I captured a female (much more shy) only twice, both times out of focus.  She was stunning in her beauty.

 

 

 

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On April 3, I returned and captured Mrs.  Happy 51st birthday to my sister, Valerie Jean.

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Pi/Pie in the Mountains!

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I’m sitting down to my keyboard this morning, the Ides of March, writing about March 14, 2018, 3/14…3.14…3.1415926535897932384626433... pi day!

I woke up yesterday morning to, my friend, Michael’s phone call.  The plan was to book off and get some of my chores done, pick up a few groceries and, likely, head to Foothills Hospital to see Wendy. All of that changed with Michael’s suggestion that we might head for the mountains and make some pie!

Well…throw caution to the wind, I did, and with no regrets.  Today, it turns out that we are under yet another snow advisory, with accumulations mounting to another possible 20 cms.  Exhausting!  I’m so happy that we got out there, for delicious food and beautiful sights!

The following video is credited to Michael Collett.  Michael is a talented artist, photographer and designer and he has a wonderful collection of art.  He is an inventive and passionate cook and a connoisseur of good food.  He appreciates nature as much as I do.  Over the past few years he has walked the circle of ‘my pond’, with me, more than anyone and I will always appreciate that.   Sometimes the person who is forever carrying the camera is left undocumented.  I am grateful to Michael for placing me into the event that was the magic of yesterday.

 

 

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All is Holy! Kath captured by Michael Collett

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The shape of Elbow Falls changed with the flood. Celebrating water and views. Photo Credit: Michael Collett

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Selfie with one of my dear friends. Photo Credit: Michael Collett

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Pot Roast Pie in the makings. Photo Credit and Filling: Michael Collett

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Photo Credit: Michael Collett

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Pie from the fire to the picnic table. Beat that! Photo Credit: Michael Collett

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Contemplation captured by Michael Collett

Michael systematically packed up ‘the stuff’ and we stopped along the way for butter and for ‘ends’ that had been thrown in a bin for firewood at a local timber place.  Off we headed out 22X.  After exploring Elbow Falls, we settled on Allan Bill as our picnic spot.  The butane was out in the lighting torch, so I ventured down to a picnic spot at the other end of the park, to borrow matches or something.  English was not this family’s first language, so after a bit of mime, I was graciously given a lighter for our campfire.  YES!

First I’ll post a few of the scenes that we enjoyed.  Unfortunately, as I look at these, I notice that there was a spot of something on my camera lens. :0(

 

 

Next, I’ll post a few of the photos I captured of Michael, enthusiastically forging ahead with the process of making unbelievable pies in the outdoors.  What a great time!

 

 

And finally….pi!

 

 

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Nesting

The past three days, we have been pulled out of the deep freeze and into a melt.  I can not walk through the tall woods at the river, without hearing the constant mating thrums of Northern Flickers and without seeing the wild flurry as males, out of urge and instinct, chase the females, dodging in and out of branches. I can hear the echoing drum of the Pileated Woodpecker on the opposite side of the river and thrill to see my Alberta Birders’ archives of the splendid colour, later, on my computer at home.  It is as though everything has come to life, suddenly.  For so long, the world slept.

It all began with the Magpies.  My neighbourhood, even as snow mounted on our quiet circle, was abuzz with the squawking gathering of dead branches that were tightly woven into the growing bulb of nests, peppering the remaining Elms.

Evenings, I stood in contemplation while the adult Bald Eagles, flew west and east and west and east, gathering up lining materials and tall grasses, returning again and again to the nest that was clearly visible all winter long.  The juveniles have mostly disappeared, leaving the two regal raptors to forge out a life for the new.  It has been an intimate and powerful encounter to watch these families throughout such a harsh winter.

While these aren’t the best of shots, I have a wee archive of the interesting approach to gathering.  I can only imagine living in one of the ‘big’ houses along the ridge and having access, every day, to such wonder, just outside my windows.

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I celebrate, every day, the access I have to such wonder.  I really can only equate it all to an experience of grace.  My friend, Michael, is someone who knows and understands what I mean by that.  A person just wants to sing, at the top of their lungs…”HOLY!  HOLY!”

Whether one enjoys the nesting behaviours of an eagle, or the simplicity of sparrows that nest in a stove vent…it is all so amazing.

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Mr. & Mrs. 2018

As my children have become adults, I have experienced a sense of loss.  Some days my heart feels empty.  But, then I step out into nature and I observe what surrounds and once again, my heart sings.  I am reminded that God made all of this for me.  I am reminded that I need to take responsibility for such astounding beauty.  Sometimes it can all be very brutal, but at other times, it is pure fragility and tenderness.

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Fiddler’s Green
One, two, three, four, one, two
September seventeen
For a girl I know it’s Mother’s Day
Her son has gone alee
And that’s where he will stay
Wind on the weathervane
Tearing blue eyes sailor-mean
As Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler’s Green
His tiny knotted heart
Well, I guess it never worked too good
The timber tore apart
And the water gorged the wood
You can hear her whispered prayer
For men at masts that always lean
The same wind that moves her hair
Moves a boy through Fiddler’s Green
Oh nothing’s changed anyway
Oh nothing’s changed anyway
Oh anytime today
He doesn’t know a soul
There’s nowhere that he’s really been
But he won’t travel long alone
No, not in Fiddler’s Green
Balloons all filled with rain
As children’s eyes turn sleepy-mean
And Falstaff sings a sorrowful refrain
For a boy in Fiddler’s Green

Mr. & Mrs. 2018

These two have moved in…activities to watch from my kitchen window.  I’ve followed the activities of this nest for ten years now.

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A few notable moments at this nest…

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Mr. & Mrs. 2014

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I find this particular vent a tad precarious…it’s a bit stressful to watch…Ma and Pa don’t know that the crows and magpies create a clamour at some point and the little guys will toddle out that door, sometimes, before they’re really cooked.  Here’s hoping that it’s a positive outcome this year.  The neighbours seem to be completely unaware of adventures in nature being a stone’s throw from their own kitchen window.

 

 

The Struggle is Real

Winter is oppressive this year.  I consider myself to be fond of all seasons, including winter, but as the snowbanks grow, I am in awe of the challenges this weather brings.  I have begun my journey of Lenten observances, but my Nativity display is still parked on the front yard, with no hope of being wedged out of the snow until some of it disappears.  I would guess that the accumulation is somewhere around the three foot mark at this point.

I came upstairs this morning, put on the coffee and then decided to sit and finish reading I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle.  Outside, the snow was coming down steadily and there was evidence that it had been piling up all night long.  Maxman was okay to chill out with me and we both eased into morning, without any attachment to screens at all.

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By 10:30, the book was finished and I felt completely depleted.  Interesting that in the very last section, titled, Last Words, Maracle stated that most readers would have stopped by that point.  I had hung in…decompressing at times, but certainly interested in the honest approach to dealing with the topics that other writers might easily skirt around.  It was a difficult book, heart-breaking in so many ways…only 140 pages, compact, intense but, most important for understanding.

I continue to be very moved by the journey and history of my indigenous brothers and sisters.  With this reading, I received new revelations to the struggles…for women, especially.

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This morning, the snow became a wall for me, insurmountable, while carrying the weight of the contents of this book.  I thought that getting down to the Bow River might create respite from my own thoughts.  Instead, I encountered the desperation of hungry animals.

My eyes seem to be wide open when I am at the river’s edge.  I feel blessed that way.

The first thing I noticed was the gobble gobble sound of a male pheasant as he valiantly took flight, gliding quite a distance from the hill across from me.  A scattering of snow and a coyote bounded from that same location, toward me and Max.  I hadn’t even left the parking lot, at this point, and already  spotted the female pheasant in a neighbouring shrub.  She was going no where!

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I was pretty certain that this coyote was one that I’ve been observing lately, easily identified by an evident limp and a mangy coat. As the weeks of bitter cold continue, a generous food source, in the way of mice, voles and such is becoming very challenging.  The predators are looking gaunt.

Stepping onto the trail, into the deep woods, and along the dark turquoise river, I noticed canine tracks in the fresh snow, unaccompanied by any human presence.  I looked down at Max and told him, “Let’s go another route today, Max.”  As I took pause and looked up, there, only a few meters away, stood one of the juvenile Bald Eagles about half way up a tree.  His back was hunched and covered in a transparent blanket of snow.  As Max and I moved to go around his territory, he took flight, his huge wings opening up directly above us.  Having taken the more traveled route, it wasn’t far and we met two of our friends, both intensely engaged in something else.

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It took Max a short while to respond.  I think he was curious, more than anything.  But, out of nowhere, he let out a wild and crazy barking-frenzy and in response, nine deer took flight and bounded across the landscape.  It all happened so fast that I didn’t have opportunity to react.  The coyotes followed the deer, without hesitation.

A moment’s pause and then, slowly and methodically, three other deer appeared.  I have a sense that these are the younger three and that the adults had reacted to Max’s barking.  Is that possible?  Dunno…  Tentatively, these guys carried on in the direction of the action.  Max and I headed north on the river.

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I wondered about there even being a possibility that coyotes might feed on deer during the winter.  I suppose if one were to fall ill or if the coyotes worked together, their clever approach to community-hunting might provide for a meal of venison.  I just know that in the cold and the snow, I felt compassion for all…the pheasant, the eagle, the deer and the coyotes.

For years, I’ve logged on to a Live Eagle Cam at Duke Farms.  I’ve just recently seen that a second egg has been laid at the nest.  Last year, surprisingly, no eagles nested in that location.  Tonight, the camera is capturing an adult sitting on the nest in a horrible snow storm…

The Struggle is Real.  Please take a moment and check in.

Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

I’m struggling with writing lately…it’s been so long since I’ve posted to my blog and yet so many amazing experiences have come and gone.  Something that is keeping me from the comfort of writing is that the past six months or so I have had a number of ‘floaters’ appear in my vision; first the left eye, then the right, and now the little squiggles have moved in my left.  It’s as though my brain is constantly having to edit out these obstructions to my vision and looking at a screen just makes it worse.  A symptom of aging, the eye specialists have assured me that, as yet, the retinas are not involved.  As a visual person, this has been disconcerting and I suppose I could write an entire piece about that, alone, but I’m here to write about Solitude.

I met Michael Harris at Wordfest.  The particular session I attended impacted me so much that I ended up purchasing books from each of the four authors and am happy to say that Christmas vacation was the perfect time to curl up and read them all, as well as others from my book shelf.  I had a very intense reading period through the holiday and I spent most of that time alone, eating a little too much chocolate.

I found the book, Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World, compelling.   If you troll the internet, you will see that reviews are either very positive OR are insistent that this is a book written for ‘old people’.  So mayhaps ONLY BOOMERS will like this book.  I disagree!  I think some very discerning and weary millennials are suffering the backlash of ‘real’ disconnection.

I am one of the ‘old people’ who, in retrospect, feel concern for the gradual erosion of our time alone, our sense of creativity and playfulness, our disassociation with ‘uncomfortable-ness’ and our loss of ‘written’ language’ and mark-making.  The past few years, I have become a part of a very odd little subset of humanity…people who watch birds…people who photograph birds…and in my encounters with them, I see a particular kind of desperation to connect with the innate need for genuine solitude and as a result, genuine connection.

Solitude (shortening the title for a matter of expediency) was a book that suited my constantly-inquiring mind and opened up some revelation about the current state of the human family inhabiting this earth.  From what I can see, in my very small sampling of that earth, the author is right on!  This was one of the most invigorating reads that I’ve enjoyed in a long time…well, since reading Kyo Maclear’s  Birds, Art Life and that wasn’t too long ago.

For the first many pages/chapters…I read, turning pages, while curled under a blanket on the red couch.  But it wasn’t long and I pulled out a highlighter.  My review will take the shape of the posting of some of the views that align with mine.  Here are some of my highlighted bits…please, don’t let these bits keep you from reading the entire book!

Do I get a thumbs up for this? (laughing, as I type)

Having driven the 401 so many times, all by myself, with Max, the chapter where Michael Harris explored our reliance on Google Maps and a GPS really spoke to me.  I’m ‘that lady’, out there, with paper maps and slipping in and out of small towns along the way.  I’ve been lost and I’ve gotten off the highway, using the wrong exit.  Those experiences created some initial panic at times but, in the end, I found my way.  I met new people.  I saw surprising things.

These past years, since retirement, I’ve been circling a pond…I’ve been exploring my city…I’ve been traveling Canada by road.  I’ve been traveling inward and seeing magnificent worlds.  It is a different sort of travel…not better or worse than international travel.  The only thing about my sort of travel is that people don’t ask about it.  There is no sort of admiration or public support for my kind of travel.  While one person may see a pyramid, I might be seeing this. The same wonder is to be had…the same awe.

Reading!!  When a person shares something on a social media site, how many people ‘really’ read it, from beginning to end?  I agree with the following insight.If you have not yet read Rebecca Solnit’s A History of Walking…please do.  She is another one of my favourite authors, currently.
Ah….the lost act of letter-writing!  While my Christmas cards have yet to be written, I do try to write letters with intent and it always feels wonderful to put things in the post box. I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandson and solitude.  It’s natural when you’re a Gramma for the first time.

I really treasure the ideas captured in this book.  I hope that my readers will enjoy it as much.

In the meantime, I will continue to nurture and enjoy my solitude.  It has left me, recently, being honest about not enjoying large group events where I must mingle.  It helps me admit my enjoyment of being alone and apart, as well as helps me understand why I enjoy small group visits so much.

 

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

Yes!  I’m getting caught up on my reviews…hardly reviews…but, posting a bit of feedback, for my own records.

A brief aside:  I’ve had a hit on my blog from Bangladesh this morning.  These things amaze me and I often do not notice, unless I am busy writing something as I am this morning.  I look outside at the blue-white day and am grateful for the steaming hot coffee on my desk and my dog, Max, who curls up at my feet.

I was with Hollee in the bookstore this summer when I saw a book titled The River by Helen Humphreys.  It was filled with maps and archives and bits of observation…all things that I relish about life these days. When I leafed through it, I knew that I wanted to read it some time…but, buying a book wasn’t in my budget, not at that time.  Now, these months later, I still have not purchased or read that book, but have read two other Humphreys books that found themselves on the very generous discount shelves of a book store, one is The Evening Chorus and the other, Coventry.

The Evening Chorus was of particular interest to me because the protagonist, James Hunter, who through unfortunate events, found himself a POW during the second World War and ends up keeping his connection with normalcy through the daily observations of a nest of Redstarts.  In the back Author’s Notes, one actually reads that while this is a book of fiction, it is connected with three historical and documented events.  I love history, and so, of course, this would interest me.   So, underpinnings to the novel include 1. There was a Wellington bomber that went down in the Ashdown Forest during World War II. 2. There was a German prison camp Kommandant who shared a family of Cedar Waxwings with a prisoner.  3. John Buxton was a wartime birdwatcher who wrote a book about the Redstart.  I could only dream to have a copy of his book.

I’ve discovered that I’m a detail lady and this book describes, very carefully, the challenges faced by James Hunter and his peers in the POW camp, the struggles of family back home and the simple act of documenting, writing about and drawing, daily observations of a family of Redstarts.  Retired and self-directed, I am blessed daily with the experiences of ‘slowing down’ time by entering into a process of observing nature.  I surround the words, ‘slowing down’, with single quotation marks because it is my intention that by entering into that process of observation of nature, time will slow, but in actuality, three hours can go by very quickly as I become immersed.

The fact that I share some of the rituals of the protagonist, I was very at home with this book.  Helen Humphreys is generous, lyrical and authentic in her portrayal of the motivation of characters throughout.

A terrific read and at a great price…but then, historical fiction is my favourite.

The Evening Chorus, when all is said and done, is a formally conventional but for the most part satisfying yarn; a quiet novel about a calamitous event whose most trenchant passages show the cast of Humphreys’s poet’s eye: “The song of the redstart begins as a melody and ends in dissonance, as though the song itself comes undone in the process of singing it, finishing up with all the right notes presented in the completely wrong order.”

Emily Donaldson is a freelance critic and editor.

The Evening Chorus

 

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