Monday, 16 March 2015



Wondering Where the Robins Are


I scrolled through a digital trove of family photographs Sunday morning. I came across a snapshot of my nana, my dad, my brother and me taken in Montreal maybe 20 years ago. Dad had made the two-hour somnambulant drive from Ottawa. My big brother had flown in from Edmonton and I’d arrived from Calgary. We’re seated together on a couch with rolling, scrolling Rococo arms, flourished brocade upholstery. We grin great grins, delighted and happy. Nana had just turned 100. Her failing eyesight annoyed her because reading, knitting, hands of bridge and crossword puzzles had become sources of frustration rather than pleasure, but overall she was in fine form compared to the other ‘cabbages’ (her noun) in the quaint and dignified Anglican ladies’ residence.


Looking back at the four of us I realize that I did not appreciate such a momentous moment in time; I’m the sole survivor. Because I believe a lot of what I have learned about life was taught by the power of song, I sometimes think of living as a mash-up of Willie Nelson and Pink Floyd: Nothing but blue skies, and pain.


Now is the time of blue skies. Above the treetops there are honking traffic jams of returning Canada geese. The digital clocks in house have sprung ahead. Later on this week we’ll welcome the first day of spring. Ann and I have been discussing last year’s robins. Will they return to rebuild a nest in that sheltered spot under the eaves where the high tension wires strung from a pole in the alley connect to the house? It’s prime avian real estate except for the neighbours, a plethora of predators including our two cats, crows, magpies and blue jays.


We invited friends for dinner Saturday evening. I barbecued a mixed grill of ribs and sausage. Though the ice on the backyard patio was still three inches thick in places, it was lifting, its bond to the concrete breaking down. At this latitude, anything north of freezing on Ann’s iPhone weather app is positively tropical. We actually sat out for a while as the sun set. Footing was tricky but that might have been due to the refreshments.


The front of the property thrives in the higher, hotter afternoon sun. Half of the lawn is already exposed and struggling mightily to turn green. The melt pattern of snow intrigues me. It always begins at the base of the birch tree and then recedes in a neat, unbroken circle from there like the ripples created by a pebble dropped in a puddle of water. Ann says the roots of all plants contain residual heat which speed and orchestrate the visual vestige of another winter’s end.

Sure enough, portions of the street facing flowerbeds were dry enough to be combed free of leaves and other debris. I spent some of Sunday afternoon raking them with gloved fingers, revealing pale green tulip shoots. I’d spent the morning communing with the dead, now I’d uncovered life. I knelt there under the sun; my knees and back hurt but I felt good.

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