Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dead birds

Yesterday Steve, who is working on our house and is consistently the first to arrive in the morning, walked out on our new deck and told me we had had some casualties. I went to look and found two birds, a cedar waxwing and a fox sparrow, lying on the deck near the rail. It wasn’t the first time we have found birds on the deck outside our tall living room windows – in fact, years ago we had some small victims that were stunned only and revived on our safer upper deck to fly away, as well as some that were already dead when we found them – but it was the first time it happened since we moved back into our house almost a year ago.

Steve said he couldn’t figure out how the two birds got killed and we both wondered whether the glass panels in our new railings and not the windows had been the cause. It could be that they both had flown down from the shad that grows next to the deck and crashed into the glass, but whatever happened I had two small and beautiful birds lying on the deck first thing in the morning.

I have picked up a few dead birds over the years, including a gorgeous yellow-shafted flicker that broke its neck after hitting the car in front of us and, amazingly, a sharp-shinned hawk that was lying on its side on a path through the blueberries at the bottom of our property. What always strikes me in these instances is the birds’ lightness, an almost unbearable lightness, you might say, of their hollow bones and the slight bodies under their ruffles of feathers. There is always pathos in the grounding of these small and wonderful flying beings.

I photographed the cedar waxwing and looked at it even closer than the camera can show. I marvelled at the delicate yellow that shifted to a paler shade under the belly and at the compact yellow tips at the ends of the grey tail feathers. The small black mask and black eyes and the swept back crest feathers were also wonderful to see. But most remarkable to me were the bright red waxy spots on the secondaries. They are pretty much impossible (for me, at least) to see on a bird in the wild, but on our kitchen counter I could see and touch these red spots and wonder what in evolutionary development could have given rise to such wonderful touches of colour.

The delicate dead birds are gone, but bird life does go on. I heard today the small lisping trill of waxwings in our shad and watched them pecking at the berries, just as I know they pecked at the blossoms earlier. A cardinal sang from a bare branch high up in one of our maples, crows cavorted on Irene’s roof next door, and the robins scolded me when I walked up the lane. It makes me happy to live with birds around and I’ll hope each day not to find any more small corpses out on our deck. The bird in the hand, after all, is not worth more than the two (or more) in the shad bush.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sir Paul McCartney comes to Halifax

Last Saturday night Sir Paul McCartney played a concert in Halifax on the Commons. It was the only Canadian stop on his current tour which takes him down the east coast of the US to play six venues, including New York and Boston and ending in Dallas toward the end of August. It’s not a strenuous tour schedule, but I guess if you are Sir Paul you can do it at your own pace. Our next door neighbours, Red and Sharon, bought tickets for the concert, as did our friend Heather, but we decided not to even though Lorraine was President of the Calgary Beatles Fan Club in 1963 and had a special affection for Paul, as he was known to all of us back then.

We didn’t buy tickets, but we were fortunate enough to receive an invitation from Robin to attend his party “Baby let me drive your balcony”, said balcony facing the Commons close to the corner of Cunard and Robie where the stage was set up. We decided to go since, after all, it was an event and a party, and, after all, Lorraine had been President and a big fan, and, after all, I had had a Beatles haircut for a short time in my undergrad years, and, after all, we knew those old songs so well. There was a crowd at Robin’s, both an art crowd (we were part of this group) and a social worker crowd, many of them colleagues and friends of Robin’s partner, plenty of food and drink, and a great view from the balcony of the traffic jamming up, the long tractor trailer support units, two policeman looking elegant on two lovely horses (though Jackie reminded me that they are often used in crowd control, which did put a different spin on the image), the back of the stage, and a sea of people waving and swaying.

The concert was a good one, with a huge crowd and a set list that had enough favourites sprinkled through it to keep everyone we could see in the main audience pretty happy – and it kept us happy enough too. There was a limit of six on Robin’s balcony so people had to do rotations there, but there was no restriction on Robin’s bed which was next to his open window. It gave a great view, so we could watch Paul’s torso from behind through a gap in the backdrop as he moved around on stage – he’s not a dancer like Mick but he does sway some and step back and forth – and the sound was great. Every song was played note for note, pause for pause, syllable for syllable, and harmony for harmony like the originals that were burned in our memories, so Jackie, a social worker I seem to see about once a decade, and I were able to sing along without missing a beat. Her sad story was that her parents had refused to let her attend a Beatles concert in Paris in 1964 with her high school because they were worried what might happen to her, but her happy story was that Sir Paul had built this concert around the Beatles songbook, and now, 45 years later, she could hear him sing almost as he would have sung back then with John, George, and Ringo.

One crowd favourite with a local flavour was the Celtic ballad “Mull of Kintyre”, which you can watch here, a great version complete with our own pipe and drum band, the 78th Highlanders. An easy one for Sir Paul was “Hey Jude” because he got the audience to do most of the singing, which they didn’t mind at all. And “Yesterday” was rendered with the same aching nostalgia it has always evoked, which did not stop any of us from singing along. Jackie and I agreed that “Helter Skelter” simply felt wrong without John (though I've since learned that the song is all Paul), and we talked seriously – Jackie is an old “leftie” – about class analysis, honouring blues roots and people of colour (not many in the audience we could see), and the fact that Sergeant Pepper’s was played as a straight thank you and good-bye at the end, with not a hint of the irony of the original.

Our political commentary was halted at one point by an amazing fireworks display, which put the whole thing into concert spectacle context as we all stared out the window and said, Oh wow! It was a time, as people say around here, a fine time, and we all shared something, some recollection of a Beatles time or place, that made it worth going for. Thanks for that, Sir Paul.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One day of summer

The day before yesterday was the first warm day we have had in June or July, and it wasn’t even that warm. The northerly flow of drier air has pushed the fog offshore, and the skies are a clear blue, but the forecast still said, the way it often does in summer here, High 25 except 19 along the coast. The morning was still and cool and the harbour completely flat and there was promise for the day, but anyone who lives along this coast knows about the afternoon wind, the southwesterly that comes up as the land heats up and the warm air rises over the land and the cooler ocean air has to rush in to fill the gap. It turns the bays and harbours a deeper blue and flecks them with whitecaps and darkening gusts that scud across the water. And it keeps the warm days cool, often cooler than you want them to be.

While it was still morning, before the wind came up too much, I drove to my mother’s so I could do some banking for her. Then I took her out for a drive, the first time she had been out for about two weeks, because she had had a bad cough and was worried about pneumonia, and she hung her white cardigan over the edge of her walker. I told her she probably wouldn’t need it, and she didn't, since of course this was a summer day, our first this season. We ended up at the Point Pleasant Park look off, in a Handicapped zone because she always keeps her little sign handy to hang on the mirror. The harbour was blue, the day was warm, she had some of my ice cream cone (caramel apple crunch, a “new flavour” at Pinky’s), and we watched people with their animals and a few boats sailing. By the time I took her back so she could get her lunch the wind had come up some more but it still wasn’t too cold.

In the afternoon Lorraine and I drove to see my brother and his wife in East Chester. My brother and I decided to go out in their sea kayak even though the wind was high and waves were roaring across the bay from Big Tancook and breaking against the remains of the old wharf. After we came out from the cove, the waves hit us and the bow of the kayak sometimes crashed hard coming down off one of them and sometimes water came rushing over the bow and pooled around my sprayskirt. What struck me, happily, was how warm the water was. I hadn’t expected this, especially after the weeks of fog and cloud and rain, but my brother pointed out, which I had forgotten, that it didn’t get very cold at night during that time. The other factor, of course, was that the afternoon wind was blowing the surface water, which was warmer and lighter, into Mahone Bay and into the cove. So after we went out to the end of Graves Island, and he saw two dolphins but I didn’t, we carefully turned the kayak, rolling around on the edges of the waves, and surfed our way back to the cove. We hauled the kayak and I told him I’d like to swim. So we did, and it was almost warm, a real delight. We checked the debris brought in by the wind, mostly seaweed and kelp and jellyfish, one a beautiful grape-coloured specimen that flowed over the edges of my hand, and then carefully picked our way through the breaking waves and up the rocky beach.

Over dinner we all joked about this day being summer, and now that it was ending we were glad we had been able to enjoy it, because tomorrow we would move into fall, or into more of that indeterminate season of fog, rain showers, 100% humidity, and highs of 17 (if we were lucky). However, we were wrong, and the next day, yesterday, was in fact the second day of our summer, high hot sun in a blue blue sky. As for today, it was neither here nor there, but our fingers are crossed and our swim bag is packed because there is a small hope that the weather pattern may have finally changed and the magical season of summer may stay. If it does, we’ll be ready and waiting!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Places to walk by the shore

Two are pre-eminent.
They are Sailor’s Point and Chebucto Head.
Both have large granite bedrock that slopes down to the sea.
The meeting of the sea and the rock has always drawn me.
I can watch and listen for hours.
Higher up lichens grow in grey or charcoal flakes on the rough surfaces.
Near the water the rocks are bare.

Things grow wherever they can.
There are pockets of black soil
and pools of dark water.
Blue flags bloom here in wet places.
Tiny cranberry flowers remind me of wild cyclamen
first noticed on the acropolis at Olimpos,
swept back petals, the flowers both delicate and brave.
A small boggy area near the lighthouse is festooned with pitcher plants.
Harebells grow between rocks.
The alder bush held down by winter winds spreads out along the ground.
No trees grow in these barrens.
The dog rose fills a sheltered spot, gentle scent.
Blueberry, huckleberry, bayberry line the paths.

You walk on rocks
or on patches of granular gravel.
There is a horizon, a line so sharp tonight it feels unreal.
The sea is moving slowly.
It slurps and bulges and sometimes crashes.
The air is clean and clear.
One buoy sends its faint hoot,
another clangs in the gentle swell.
You walk and watch.
You breathe.
And you listen.
Sailor’s Point and Chebucto Head.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Me and Canada Day

Today is Thursday, the day after Canada Day, the 142nd birthday of this country. On Tuesday, the day before Canada Day, our local CBC station ran a story about a man who has been a landed immigrant in Canada even longer than I have. As I remember from the news account, he landed in Canada some time in the spring of 1946, probably at the Pier 21 Immigration Shed (now an Immigration Museum), the same one I arrived in about a year later. He was the son of a Canadian serviceman and his Scottish war bride, and, like me, he always thought he was Canadian – a citizen of Canada, that is – until he applied for a passport and found he wasn’t.

I landed at Pier 21 on March 16, 1947 and my card indicates “ADMITTED NON-IMMIGRANT"; a month later my parents received a card dated April 15, 1947 that said “LANDED IMMIGRANT”, and that is the status I have had ever since. I believe that the man on the news has applied for his citizenship. By my reckoning he should have had it long ago since his dad was a Canadian, but perhaps he didn’t ever apply for it. My situation is a little different. It is my mother who was and is Canadian, as were her mother and maternal grandmother, and I couldn't inherit her citizenship because I was born before 1949 when that law changed. My father was British, though he himself became a Canadian some time after immigrating, and I travel on a British passport, since Bermuda, where I was born, no longer issues its own passports. Last October, after sixty-two years as a landed immigrant of Canada, I decided I should make my association with this country more permanent and official and I applied to become a Canadian citizen.

So, I am looking forward to being a real Canadian and will certainly post an account of that occasion here when it does occur (the CBC story talked about a 12 to 14 month processing period for applications, so it may not be soon!). However, I did my best to celebrate my adopted country’s birthday yesterday. I went for my first Canadian outdoor swim yesterday afternoon at Caribou Park Beach, even though the wind was pretty fierce out of the north, the air temperature was about 18 degrees, and the water felt about the same. I ate, with my Canadian wife and Canadian friends, a large and fine bowl of lobster bisque (lobsters landed at the Caribou government wharf on an inlet of Northumberland Strait) made with Canadian Carnation milk. I toasted, albeit with an Italian pinot grigio, the joys of my adopted country and thanked these fine Canadians for sharing their celebration with me. I joined them for a very Canadian driftwood bonfire on their beach and applauded the small but spectacular fireworks display. And I slept in my MEC sleeping bag, soundly and proudly Canadian.

So, Happy Canada Day – may there be many more – and maybe next July 1st I will sing O Canada, our home and native land, (you can listen here) as a legitimate citizen of this large and mostly fine young country!