The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

April 11, 2009

Let me tell you 'bout the Birds and the Be's



Yes, that's a real picture above, taken in the last day or two in Selkirk, just north of Winterpeg, by a reader of our newspaper.

It's a pic of the ice jams that are forcing yet another flood of our Red River which flows through this city of about three-quarters of a million people who, for whatever reason, live on its banks.

And whose ancestors have forever had to live with nature's reality that ice and snow melt and a river engorged must overflow.

It happens every few years, with 1897, 1950, 1996 and 1997 being among the worst as far as I know.

This year, a long, cold winter that persisted well beyond its normal lifespan kept the ice from melting when it usually does.

Giant blocks of ice and snow have backed up the river all along its length, south beyond North Dakota and I believe as far as Missouri.

The water has nowhere to go. A flood results. People lose their homes as the water, over the years, has reached to rooftops and beyond. Gigantic volunteer sandbagging efforts are mounted.

I tried to volunteer on Saturday, but because our floodway gates were opened and we're breaking up the ice with equipment and the weather has been favourable, the water is moving.

The immediate threat has diminished.

For now, they don't need people to help with sandbags.

They need the ice to move and the water to flow north with it. They need nature, with a little help from us (the pic below shows the machines hacking up river ice), to do what it's always done.

I know I've lamented here previously about the brutal winter and the absence of spring. But finally, on the Easter long weekend, I can feel and sense and hear and smell the hopefulness of spring in the air.

The snow, finally, is melting. The Canada geese are returning in ever larger numbers, although those early arrivals from a few weeks ago might have flown back down south, who knows.

When I had my own house several years ago, even though I lived in suburbia, I could get out into my yard and rake leaves, tend to a garden, do some landscaping and planting, sit under a huge tree with a beer.

I could feel and sense nature and animals, including our ten-inch mosquitoes, and live in solitude with them, almost take their bothersome buzzing and biting as a rite of summer and the sweat I was emitting which they love.

I could hear the birds chirping and the squirrels squawking. I could hear a woodpecker pecking.

I could watch the robin prance around and miraculously find a worm it could hear underground. I could watch the ants do their remarkable tasks, lift a rock and find a centipede and know how its bite could hurt.

As an apartment dweller for the past five years or so, I've lost that connection except on a superficial level.

I've lost my chance to be one-on-one with the natural world, the way I was when I spent hours alone collecting insects as a kid. Because of that, I've lost a lot of the "kid" in me.

I plan to get that feeling back through camping and travelling and hiking, which I plan to do this summer. Less computer, more living and loving.

Anyway, the weather finally HAS warmed up, a bit.

And the forecast is for it to get considerably warmer this coming week, with highs of around 17C, which for you Far Out Fahrenheiters is somewhere around the mid-60s, I think.

But the point of this is that in the last day or two, I noticed there were a bunch of little twigs and some straw material accumulating under the mailbox at my front door and even inside it.

Just like in the old Canadian kids' show The Friendly Giant, I looked up -- waaaaaay up -- to the light above. And I could see what was happening.

It's the height of survivability stupidity, perhaps, but a mating pair of sparrows, spurred on uncontrollably by the warming weather and the undeniable need to reproduce, are building a nest up there.

They are doing so a mere two or three feet from my door.

The door is opened and closed regularly. If not by me, then by my son. The mailman, the paper delivery guy, any number of bothersome humans approach that area on a daily basis.

But the sparrows -- the male with a bright red chest, the female with beautiful brown splotches on her breast -- won't stop. They won't and maybe by now can't. They've picked their spot, and that's their spot.

When I had this closer look, they were both perched in the elm (I think it's an elm) right outside my front door, making all kinds of noise and obviously alarmed.

I had discovered their nest.

If I had wanted to, I could destroy it. Mating birds can be a pain in the butt in some ways, over a fairly lengthy period of time.

Their beautiful instinct to protect the nest and the eggs and then the chicks within it is a remarkable, evolutionary thing. But is this really what they want?

Did they anticipate the pain-in-the-ass human element when they chose to nest where they did?

I contemplated this thought as I considered what to do next.

Would it be better if I destroyed the nest and forced them to find another spot that wouldn't interfere with my life and where I wouldn't interfere with theirs?

I decided that if that's the course that nature paved for them -- whatever the consequences to them or to their chicks -- that I shouldn't interfere with them any more than I would purposely step on an ant or spider.

So it seems these sparrows and I might be knocking heads together over the next few weeks.

That's their choice, and I'll try to respect their space, but I'm not going to become a bird-brain trying to accommodate them, either.

This is my space and theirs.

And my feeling is if they're willing to live with the angst of a potential predator walking just below their offspring at least twice a day, then that's the choice they made.

And to answer the question of why I continue to live here? First, it's just part of who and what I am.

And second, there's something incredible about existing in a place like this and still being filled with the natural abundance that shows itself every spring and summer.

It's the variety of life. And it's the timing of it all and the change and metamorphosis, I figure.
It's the shedding of skin, rather than the static of sameness. It's that simple.