POSTED: OCT. 1, 2020
I am not really a bird guy. But for the last few weeks a crazy big sea bird has been coming by and visiting En Plein Air. After pulling out one of my bird books I went over to where he likes to sit on the fore-boom and got up close to examine him with my book in hand. He twisted his head as if to see what I was looking at.
“Yup, you are a Shearwater” I exclaimed aloud. He just sat there.
Most days he comes by in the morning when I am out watering the little potted vegetable garden and herb garden I have. The first day he took away part of my toast, but left my coffee alone. Another day he ate part of Ciaras hard boiled egg. That just seems weird to me.
Now he appears to be hooked on the coffee. He sits not very far away and watches me. He seems to know when I have stopped drinking the coffee and there is just a little left and I have gone off to do something else its ok to get his beak in there. Both Ciera and I have started using wider mugs and not finishing our coffee and leaving the mugs on the table on the deck. I have also taken to getting out my camera and my bird friend has taken to picking up on that and flying off.
A buddy of mines parents moved to their cottage on a lake when they retired. Part of their routine was to go for long walks at dusk. A young fox got the idea this was a good thing and would come within sight of the cottage door and watch for them and they would watch for him before starting off. The route they took was always the same through some trails in the bush and back to the cottage and the fox would come and go and appear at various points on the walk as if checking on them. At times the distance from the fox to the couple was big and at other times smaller but never very close. By the end of the walk the fox would make his final appearance and then disappear into the forest again until the following evening in time for the “walk”. In the spring, summer, and fall it happened during their walks and in the winter during their cross-country skiing of the same trails.
There is no big epiphany here, but just to say that these animals sometimes hang out for food and sometimes just because they don’t see people as a threat, and they find us interesting and its part of their routine. I think they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
The two bird books I have, with a few cookbooks and letters are some of the only written luxuries I keep on the boat. On a regular basis I do go to local libraries wherever we are moored at the time however.
My bird books came out of a funeral I was at not many years after high school. I was back in town from working on the cruise ships and a friend’s dad had passed. I went to pay my respects and because I knew a lot of my old classmates would be there. Sort of a morbid class reunion.
His dad I did not know well – just a regular dad. But at the funeral I learned of his interest as a teenager and then young man in racing pigeons. These “homing” pigeons were all the rage at one time. The owners would release them long distances from their home and they would make it back to their little pen with their own built in GPS programmed by Mother Nature. At one time this was so popular that various “pigeon fanciers” as they were called would always have a spare safe spot or two for pigeons who were making it home from where they were released – a sort of pigeon hotel chain.
Because it was an Irish wake it was a bit of a scene. Two days before, the family had all assembled and the guys went out to the back garden and garage to build the rough box for the casket. With each saw cut or hammering in some nails they would tell stories of the fellow who had passed and have another swig of Irish whiskey, Canadian Rye whiskey, or beer. My buddy told me there had been a lot of laughing, crying and drinking and while all this was going on the women were in the house cooking and baking for the wake and funeral day, and also laughing and crying and drinking.
At the time of the funeral there was a crazy amount of food, a lot of booze and a good number of people who had spent a couple of days reflecting on who the deceased was, what he meant to them and what life would be like going forward without him. So they were all well into the process of grieving and recovery, and quite reflective, while some of us, like me, came into it a bit unawares.
So when I asked a woman about the mans interest in pigeons she spent a bit of time telling me about Rollers and Tumblers, Dragoons, Black Grizzle’s and Kings and the ins and outs of the hobby. She was elderly and had known him when he was a young man and had shared the pigeon interest with him, but had largely lost track of him later in life. She knew of him so well and spoke of him in a such a way I think she might have been a girlfriend in high school. And then she stopped and looked me in the eye and said of this dead old fellow who had raised homing pigeons as a young man: “His father was an alcoholic, and nasty to his mum and when be was old enough he left home in his mid teens to make his own life. The pigeons were a hobby but their desire to find their home is a sense that he shared with them.”
I was a young guy, and her sincerity and insight was a bit overwhelming for me and it has stayed with me for all these years. She was probably about the age I am now or maybe a bit younger.
A few days later I went over to see my school friend in a context that was more upbeat than the funeral, as I was heading off to the cruise ships again and the family was having a garage sale.
I bought two of the bird books and even though I have never really had much personal storage space, and even today don’t have much space on the boat they have traveled around with me.
They are quite old and tattered now, but unlike novels or other things that come and go with the fashion of the times, nature isn’t making new versions of these birds, so I can still look them up and find out a bit more about them, but every time I crack open one of these old puppies or even look at them on my little shelf, I think about that woman’s comments about the original owners of these books looking for home and think that in a little way I am helping these books find their own home.
The book with the descriptor of this family of birds called Shearwaters had some pretty interesting details. These birds who share a general category with Albatrosses, are called Shearwaters (at least in English) as they like to fly so close to the surface of the water they appear to shear the tops of the waves.
They fly thousands of kilometers a year in migration and some dive into the water over seventy meters (over 225 feet) deep to feed on various fish. The book said nothing about them enjoying coffee so I will keep that to a minimum.
But its almost 9:00 and I had better get a bit of dry toast and some coffee and go and see if our new friend is on the railing of the deck waiting for me.
p.s. The image at the top of the page is not my own. I have been trying to get a picture of my feathered friend but he has eluded me pretty well so this is an image from the Malta Tourist Office.