Coming Clean!

I have to update my readers.  I’ve intentionally stopped posting about the pond.  No bush. No duck. No footprints in the snow.

Four days ago, I wrote a tribute to Mrs. Shoveler, a hen Northern Shoveler who, having suffered an injury, was grounded on the pond.  I first noticed her on December 14.  Very consistently, nature shares some revelation with me on December 14, every year.  This year, having solicited the support of all of my social media contacts and City of Calgary wildlife organizations, I had lost hope of retrieving this bird from the open water and on January 2nd, having come upon a kill site, I knew that she had come into the clutches of a canine predator.

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I woke, on January 3rd, knowing that later in the afternoon, I would be attending prayers for Emelia, a former student who passed away, sadly, on December 26.  I had one of those mornings where I drifted in and out of sleep for quite some time.  I’m an early riser, but when it’s bitterly cold outside and the alarm isn’t set, I enjoy that wonderful pull-back into sleep.  I didn’t know where the distinction was, that morning, between dream and thought.  Let’s just say that the images that surfaced from the fog included a big red vessel, many cables from land being pulled strenuously, heavily weighted, a duck-like bird that looked as though it was a character in a graphic novel, these images all in techno-colour blue and red and yellow…somewhere, a shift…a large wolf-like dog pouncing, shaking, lifeless form, indistinct.  I jolted awake from this.

While I made my coffee, I prayed for parents who have lost a child, for each morning, for each new day’s realization.  It was ridiculous that I should have had an attachment to the Northern Shoveler. “Time to let go of these images and these attachments.  What can I do to disconnect from this experience?”  Several people, including my father and Ruth Purves-Smith and Sean Kubara said all of the right things and while disappointed, I did realize that in nature, you truly find a circle of life.  I headed for the pond, with Max, thinking that I might collect a feather to bring home.

This is what I found…”PIGEON FEATHERS!!!  Are you kidding me???”

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Looking to the right, this is what I saw…

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“YES!  That’s her!”  I hooted!  I ran to the car and called the non-emergency fire department. That was it!  I wasn’t messing around anymore.  I was going to get Mrs. off of the water! The department was kind enough to assess the situation and their feed back was, “She seems to be enjoying her time out there on the pond.”  Okay…so, that wasn’t the avenue I was going to take.  I sent a message off to AIWC Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation.  Ducks Unlimited sent me a message, “Ducks sometime choose to hang out all winter long.”  At this point I thought about all of the people who had supported me and who had read my heart felt thoughts in my Mrs. tribute.  I decided, until this situation had a resolution, I was going to stop myself from sharing anything at all.  I left the pond, feeling determined.

I went to say prayers for Emelia, connecting with so many people who loved and shared time with Emelia in life…hugging her Mom.

Exhausted, I headed home, full of the absolute joy and sadness of life and living.

On January 4, word came from AIWC and a capture attempt would happen, around noon. Thanks to the training and experience of Cheryl, Dan and a Birds Calgary member, Rodney, we put in an effort and discovered more about the little lady on the pond.  First of all, the injury was to her leg/foot and not her wings. This was a good thing.  This meant that she could escape a predator if need be. Since December 14, I had visualized getting a raft out onto that open water, and yet that would not have been helpful at all.  She would take off at every approach, circle and swish down into the water over and over again.  When she landed onto the fresh snow, she couldn’t walk and would take off from there again and again.

Mrs. got really annoyed with all of us and finally took off east down the line of 22X.  We had to close up shop.  I had gratitude, for the fact that she could fly and that she could use her natural instincts to avoid predators.  Unfortunately, I knew that bad weather was on the way.  The next attempt would not be until January 6.  I hugged the volunteers and headed home, informed of how to feed her and what to feed her in the case that she came back, so a quick stop was made and that evening, as sun was setting, I headed to the open water, hoping for her return, bucket of corn millet in tow.

Not only was little Mrs. back, but she had company in a female Mallard who enjoyed the easy pickings of the seed that I threw out onto the water.

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The next day, Mrs. Shoveler was alone again,  when Max and I stopped in to throw some feed and to go for our walk.

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I knew that weather was changing and sure enough, when I visited her at 5:00, the water was turning to slush, the seed was just sitting on the solidifying surface and she was barely moving on the far side of her patch of open water. Evening…and I wondered with the snow that was falling if there would be any way to survive the plummeting temperatures and the snowfall.

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Today, I hiked down to the site, with Dan and Cheryl’s promise that they would be coming down for noon time, to find this…

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I texted Cheryl…there was no reason she should make the effort and come south from Airdrie in such rotten conditions, if our Shoveler had met her demise.  I went back to the car and stayed warm and hoped that Cheryl would contact me.

We hugged in the parking lot and then, together, walked down to the site, in order to scout around the cat tails.  It took no more than ten minutes and Cheryl spotted her…back wing feathers and tail feathers out of the snow…but otherwise, buried and seeming stuck on the slope directly up from the pond.  Quietly, Dan approached with his net, gathering her up.  There were joyful utterances from all of us and an urgency to get the snow off of her and warm her up, however gradually.  Wrapped in a towel, Cheryl described how small she was, likely underweight and also dehydrated.  So readers, we got the save!  This is the ‘resurrection’ story…this is a story of how things sometimes ‘go right’ in nature.

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Cheryl, new friend and advocate for wild life.

 

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Cheryl and Dan AIWC volunteers…amazing people!

I’m so grateful that I have this story to share with each of you and thank all of you for putting up with my perpetual efforts and amusement in all of this.  I will be applying for AIWC as soon as possible.  There’s some evidence that I take an interest!

Report from Cheryl is that Mrs. Shoveler is being assessed by their vet team…she couldn’t stay for her check up as she was off and running to deal with an owl stuck in a vehicle rad. :0(  Apparently, these are the stories of our wildlife friends and I encourage you to support, how you can, the fine people who fulfill this very specialized need.

To update my readers…and again, thank you for your support through this little journey into nature.

To all of my readers/supporters/wild life enthusiasts, I am sorry after such a ‘save’ today that I have to report that Mrs. had to be humanely put to rest this afternoon. Her fracture to her left leg was a complicated one as it was on her joint, she had multiple fractures to her toes and she had extensive frost bite to the left foot as well. There was no treatment that might have prepared her body for the life of a functioning Northern Shoveler. She was a resilient and determined Mrs. and she filled my heart…and she made Max bark…and she created light in her life by the sheer beauty of ‘being’. If she was that for us, how much more can we be for others, not by appearances, but, by sheer will? Just paddle as hard as you can. It is enough. AIWC rocks. I just want to thank you and I’m happy that she isn’t alone out there, in the snow and cold tonight.

The Nuisance Grounds

“WELCOME TO OUR NUISANCE GROUNDS”, as Margaret Laurence, writer of The Diviners, aptly named that hidden place where garbage is tossed, shoveled, moved around and buried.

Photo Credit: D'Arcy Norman 2009 Spy Hill Landfill

Photo Credit: D’Arcy Norman 2009 Spy Hill Landfill

 

There is no judgment in writing this piece because I contribute generously, as well, to the dump (now, politically-labeled the landfill), it’s just that every spring, I seem to churn the soil and dig our communal secrets up again. They present themselves on the surface in the form of litter.  The story of winter refuse surrounds us.  We drive by it, step over it, complain about it and then wait for someone else to pick it up.

I met a homeless gentleman named Frank, three years ago, when I started picking up litter at a location where I walked my dog, Max, daily (still do).  Frank was one of five people who thanked me during that period of time.  I had been picking up a full heaping bag of litter every day for three months and he would sit and drink a beer, roosting on one of the slopes, gazing over the whole of the pond at the center of the flats.  He would place his beer can in a a plastic grocery bag and tuck it under a tree and after the sixth day, his neatly tied package would be offered up for pennies, nickles and dimes.  He said good-bye to me on his last day, after months of watching me pick.  He was heading for Vancouver for the winter and he thanked me for ‘making the place look good’.  I told him that the place was going to be named after him, Frank’s Flats.  The name has stuck.

A jogger thanked me.  She put down her plastic water bottle while doing her laps around the pond and asked if I would please not throw it away.  She told me that she would be picking it up after her run.  She said that the place looked great, because of me.

A man, getting up in years, thanked me.  He was walking his old pooch on the trail.  He asked, “You’re not from the city, are you?”  I said…”I live here. I’m a teacher.”  He thanked me.

A high school student thanked me.  A couple had been sitting on a bench that over looks the pond.  It was after school and they were curled up and smooching.  As I approached, they reorganized themselves and while I picked up plastic slurpee cups and chip bags and straws and fast food packages, they observed.  As I stepped past their bench, the boy called out, “Heh, thank you.”

Debbie thanked me.  She even told me that when she walked her dog, Rosie, she was going to start bringing a little bag with her and do the same.  This was such a warm and wonderful offering, one of the best things that happened to me that first spring and summer.

And so it went…for three months; I was observed by many and because I was observed so closely, I became interested in reactions and fascinated by the isolation that became  my experience.  User group members of the facilities above the flats and my encounters with them became a social experiment.  I became fascinated in the huge chasm that came between me and ‘the others’, more than the distance between two complete strangers…bigger than that!

To this day,  when I pick garbage, it’s as though I become invisible.  I am, all of a sudden, from a different social status.  If I was a city worker, I would be given higher status.  But, I am not a city worker.  That’s why I began thinking that the ‘garbage man’ must fit into one of Carl Jung’s archetypes, most likely a part of ‘the Shadow’.

There are all kinds of volunteers operating in the City of Calgary, picking up that packaging and advertisement that we unleash on to the wind, not giving a care about where it all blows, as long as it’s out of our sight.  If my readers are familiar with Christie in Laurence’s The Diviners or Mr. Jonas, the junkman in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, you will realize the greater archetype that lives with the ‘garbage man’ or even the ‘janitor’, now labeled a caretaker.  Below, a spark note excerpt about Mr. Jonas, Chapter 35, Dandelion Wine.

“Mr. Jonas, the junkman, comes into town with his horse Ned and his wagon. He sings as he rides, and people line the streets to look at his goods. No ordinary junkman, Mr. Jonas had lived as a businessman in Chicago but decided to spend the rest of his life making sure that one area of town got a chance to take what the other side considered junk. He traveled through the town and only asked that people took something that they truly wanted, something they would use. Then the adults of children would put something of their own that they no longer had any use for in the wagon, and Mr. Jonas would be on his way, singing.”

From Christie, in The Diviners,

“By their garbage shall ye know them,”…The ones who have to wrap the rye bottles in old newspapers to try to hide the fact that there are so goddamn many of them. The ones who have fourteen thousand pill bottles the week, now. The ones who will be chucking out the family albums the moment the grandmother goes to her ancestors. The ones who’re afraid to flush the safes down the john, them with flush johns, in case it plugs the plumbing and Melrose Maclaren has to come and get it unstuck and might see, as if Mel would give the hundredth part of a damn. I tell you, girl, they’re close as clams and twice as brainless. I see what they throw out, and I don’t care a shit, but they think I do, so that’s why they cannot look at me….”

Similarly, Father Kevin Tumback used to tell a story on Ash Wednesday about a Rag Man…a metaphor for Jesus who traded parts of himself for the wounded parts of others.

I was just thinking, as another season of litter-picking faces the volunteers in our Calgary communities, it would be an awesome thing if we all became a bit more conscious…aware of our communications with those who are picking up our communal waste.  It would be a wondrous thing if the ‘garbage men’ were valued and appreciated.  It would also be a spectacular thing if we elevated ourselves as a collective, more conscious consumers, more attentive stewards.

You are welcome to join me at Frank’s Flats.  You only need to bring gloves.  Be in touch.

May 10, 2014 Frank's Flats

May 10, 2014 Frank’s Flats

May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014

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Amazed about the orange bag filled with litter…someone else picked today!

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Surprise #5: Taking Care of Business!

P1120253 P1120254 P1120255 P1120256 P1120257 P1120258 P1120259 Randy Bachman really shook up the crowd.  One awesome act after another, but this one seemed to inspire YouTube video and got the most people up off their seats.  I was surprised that his set resonated with me so deeply.  I had no idea that of all the music to be heard the evening of the Alberta Flood Relief Concert, Bachman’s tunes would so reach into my heart and memory.  He was not only entertaining, he was genuinely musical.  There was so much energy in the band that the crowd could not help but get pumped.  Nice going, Randy!  And, thank you!

This would be the YouTube video that really put a smile on my face.  I was too busy dancing to create one of my own!  This one’s titled, “Guy givin’ er at Alberta flood relief concert”