Monday, 27 September 2021


Signals and Symbols

They are rare birds in the city. Ann said that when the raven alit on the top rail our entire fence wobbled. Moments later I saw the beast on an angled piece of one of our downspouts. It was the size of a Canadian football with a head and a scythe for a beak, its wingspan constrained and knock-knock-knocking under the eaves. It was shiny black like Superman’s hair, complete with cyan DC Comics highlights.

The biggest birds Ann and I have marvelled at as they’ve flitted around the Crooked 9 are pileated woodpeckers, the largest of that species. They’re vertical birds, designed to cling upright to tree trunks. Bald eagles fly too high for our point of view. We sometimes hear great horned owls in the night. Ravens are dirigibles, unleaded zeppelins whose song remains the same, “Nevermore.” Even our local magpies were intimidated; a parliament of those prancing, squawking, puffed out toughs will generally take on all comers, cats and dogs included.

It’s impossible not to be at least a little po-faced as summer fades into fall. Yet it’s still that lovely and brief Hemingway time of the year: Ann and I get out of bed as the sun also rises. Dawn’s cloudy blazing swatches of horizon colour, hues of red, orange and yellow, accentuate the beautiful decaying leaves of our trees and shrubs; the sky curls on the lawn and the walk, drifted down to Earth. The air smells different, a little more pungent. There’s a refreshed clarity in our neighbourhood star’s lower light, everything we can see seems a little sharper, as if some cosmic lense has been wiped clean and adjusted minutely.

Mornings of late have been no small grace. Ann and I are still able to take our coffees outside. Our mugs steam on the front porch tete-a-tete. We are cozy in our Neil Young godfather of grunge lumberjack flannel shirts, collars up. The pages of our newspaper sections rustle in concert with the shrivelling leaves. The birds are active: some are year-round residents; Canada geese are squonking south; arctic nesters layover on their flight paths north. For one blessed hour there is peace, no motors, no sirens, just gratitude for a sense of low-key contentment in spite of everything else unfolding out there. It’s all good. Winter’s coming though, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

I suspect this will sound a bit bizarre, but sometimes I imagine Richard Harris in shining armour clopping down our street astride a warhorse warbling, “By order summer lingers through September…” But Camelot was as idealistic as Eden, wasn’t it? As misguided a faith in the fantastically unattainable as a failing cult serving cups of funny tasting Kool-Aid. Nothing lasts, be it a moment, an hour, months, years or an era, good or bad.

I like to wear caps, baseball style ones. Berets never suited me. Only two English speaking people have ever rocked the French look, Groucho Marx and E Street’s Miami Steve. But I’ve smoked enough alcohol and drunk enough cigarettes to know that the Existentialists got life’s innate absurdity right enough or close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. Our unbidden existence is akin to raking leaves on a windy day: a futile exercise, but not entirely without result. When I’m working on our lawn with a fan rake in a breeze, I can choose between Sisyphean despair at the uselessness of it all, rake up and do it again, or be dazzled by the beauty of the fall. Still, it’s somewhat disconcerting to be conscious of the beady gaze of a lone raven as I go about my meaningless business. 

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of mystified musings since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer

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