Monday, November 28, 2011


I didn’t realize when I got up this morning that today would be a day I engaged with crows.  After breakfast I did watch one from the kitchen window as it worked on the remnants of the suet cake in the rather beat-up green wire cage I put it in.  I always replenish the suet knowing that the chickadees and jays will come, but also hoping for a return of the downy and hairy woodpeckers from previous years.  No woodpeckers this year, but a problem with the crows.  I haven’t seen them do it, but they (I’m sure it’s them!) seem to have figured out how the open the cage and make off with the suet cake, a reminder of the small steak one of them stole from next to the barbecue back in the spring.  This time, however, I’ve used a twist-tie to foil their tricks, and the cake has stayed.

This morning’s crow flew up to the slender branch the cage hangs from, held onto the branch with one claw and the cage with the other, and managed to twist itself around to be able to peck at the suet from underneath.  I went to get the camera.  When I got back to the window, our neighbourhood squirrel, whom I hadn’t seen since late summer, was on the branch approaching the crow.  I wanted to catch this confrontation, but just as I carefully raised the camera, the crow flew down to the ground and left the squirrel to chip away at the suet.

Before we went for our Monday swim we stopped down by the Dingle in Fleming Park to check on crows.  Lorraine had her Bronica loaded with a roll of black-and-white in the hope of catching some on film.  We heard and saw lots in the distance, way back in the trees, and I even saw some chase a small falcon that swooped through their territory, but none came anywhere near us; the best we were able to do was attract a bunch of mallard ducks who kept pecking (if ducks can peck with bills like that) in the bright grass to find and eat whatever they were finding and eating there.

Later we came back, parked the car by a yellow barricade where we had seen a few crows, and made our way down to the stream hoping to catch them this time.  We had a small bag of cookies from Heppy’s (really good raisin cookies!) and decided to try to attract the crows with them.  I walked along the path, feeling like Hansel, as I broke off little bits of cookie and dropped them behind me.  The crows began to call out and follow me, and then I felt more like the Pied Piper with these wonderful birds flying from branch to branch behind me.

We both got some shots of these intelligent black beauties.  Some even came close enough to catch the bits of cookie (the ones I didn’t eat myself) before they landed. 

I loved the fact that one brave crow came to within a metre of my foot, hoping I had another piece to donate to its cause.

And after we came back from buying more film, I found a black feather on the ground where we had been photographing.  For some reason, perhaps the lateness of the day, the crows were much less interested in bits of cookie and ended up flying off into the woods, but we had our images, ate the cookie remnants, and headed home.

I do love these birds, they are so smart and so beautiful, and I’ll bring cookies for them any day if it means they’ll come and engage with me!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Sweet Music of Africville Stories

On Saturday night we had a treat.  Our friend Sylvia had told us about it earlier in the week, and I had bought tickets, but we hadn’t had time to think too much about it.  That absence of a heightened sense of anticipation or expectation made it even more of a treat and us even more ready to be transported by the event.  Which we were!

We arrived at the Maritime Conservatory and went upstairs to the familiar terrain of the Lilian Piercey Concert Hall where we had often heard wonderful classical and cabaret concerts, often featuring people we knew.  There was a good-sized crowd, but as so often happens the first two rows were pretty much empty.  We saw Sylvia waving so we sat just in front of her and her sisters in the second row and waited for the concert to start.  The stage was arranged with a piano on the left, a skeletal electric stand-up bass in the middle, and a drum kit on the right.  In front were two mikes, one centre stage and the other next to the curtain on the right.  It was a jazz setup.

After the intro by Charla Williams the band came out, led by Joe Sealy.  Joe spoke quietly about the piece, Africville Stories, based on his earlier Africville Suite, and the fact that it would be narrated by his good friend Jackie Richardson, who gave a sweet smile.  Paul Novotny, the bass player with his suit and skinny Brubeck style necktie, also smiled, and Dave Burton took his serious seat in back of the drum set.  The mike on the right side was vacant as Joe sat at the piano and Jackie started the story.

Her voice had a resonance and a depth of musicality, and she pulled us right into the narrative.  And then the music started.  Well!  There were hums and murmurs and aha’s from among us as Jackie started to sing.  The music built and her volume built and the excitement in the room built as she sang “Deep down inside” and she got deep down inside and pulled us all there with her until the murmurs got louder and the energy built and by the time she found her way to the end of the piece we were all standing and clapping and shouting.  The place was jumping like I’d never seen it jump before!

And that was just the first of the Africville stories!  We sat ourselves down and settled down for the next story and its song.  There were no vocals, but Chris Mitchell came on to pick up one of his saxophones and start singing with it, and the band took off with him.  Jackie was at the edge of the stage, hardly able to contain herself, Joe at the piano was playing back to Chris, Paul on the bass was strumming and grinning, Dave’s drums were under and over and around every move they all made, and we were approaching bliss out there on the floor.

The show went on, more stories, more great songs, solos that held you in their subtle and inevitable grasp, and lyrical lyrics where Jackie soared and rumbled and whispered, until our hands were sore from clapping and our voices hoarse from shouting out.  It was ninety minutes of musical energy filled with sadness and joy, soulful solace for the brutal loss of the community of Africville and soulful celebration of the memory of place and people and spirit, and it was accomplished through the sweet power of Joe’s composition and everyone’s beautiful music.

At the end, when we finally stopped shouting and whistling and clapping, we ended up looking around in a state of wonder.  Sylvia said she had heard Jackie before but never like this.  I said she was transported.  And she was.  And we all were.

It was a place to be.  Wish you could have been there too.