Being the 2nd of a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas.

Standing at the window, I gasp in utter shock. The women gathered in the kitchen behind me stop chatting to ask, in some concern, What’s wrong?

What are those magnificent birds? I manage to get out. The bird feeder is aswarm with splendid specimens I’ve never seen before.

All locals, the women rush over to the window and then stand there in some puzzlement. What birds? someone finally asks. The red ones, I sputter. How can they not see them? The birds boast a never-before-seen-by-me bright orange-red splendour. You mean the cardinals? someone asks in some surprise. Their interest gone as quickly as it came, they return to their visiting and dinner preparations, while I stand at the window, caught in rapt attention.

Cardinals! A born-and-bred Albertan, I had, of course, heard of cardinals and seen them on Christmas cards and dish towels and cross-stitched pillows, but had never seen one in the flesh. I have to say that the Christmas cards and dish towels and cross-stitched pillows don’t begin to do them justice. These are wondrous creatures, not awkward little blobs of improbable red. But the Manitobans are unimpressed: cardinals are routine visitors in these parts, and rendered unexceptional by that routine.

Fast forward a year or so. Glancing out on the Calgary streetscape, a young colleague born and bred east of the Manitoba/Ontario border blurts out, What is that big black-and white bird? Interested, I look up from my monitor. An older guy from the Toronto office walks over to the window and stops dead in his tracks, too. I have no idea, he says. OK, now I’m hooked. I walk over to stand beside them and eagerly scan the vista for an exotic, big black-and-white bird. I see nothing of note, but they are still staring out the window. Puzzled, I scan again and ask, hesitantly, Do you mean that magpie? The one on the ledge? 

Is that what it is? one of them asks. They are still staring.

Yikes, I think, imagine all that fuss over a magpie, and go back to my work.

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2 Responses to Familiarity

  1. Growing up in California, birds were greedy seagulls or hummingbird thugs, so walking in a wood with John last winter was magical. He gave me peanuts to hold in my outstretched, but slightly cupped (!) hand — easier for them to land
    — and land they did, but took turns! The chickadees’ cold scratchy little feet held tight as they casually flicked a peanut off my hand onto the path below (for later) and picked up another to take away to a nearby branch. Such trust! I have never been so flattered.

    John has them has constant companions — on his hand, his shoulder (the nuthatch lands on his chest to remind him it’s time to put out MORE nuts), his easel, his brush, his palette. A real Dr. Doolittle sitting there painting as best he can with all the noisy commotion! He loves it. Always laughs when he tells me.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I have not fed chickadees, but have enticed grey jays to take bread held out at arm’s length. They take it on the wing, as it were, coming in to hover for just a moment, with a great flapping of wings. Methinks that, unlike the feisty hummingbirds, they are not designed for hovering.

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