Are You Paying Attention?

Cherry thief

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver

“I’m not dying on a diet,” said somebody re: Covid-19. I signed up for that plan. No longer do I scold my husband for destroying my attempts at sugar abstinence when he bakes his wonderful sourdough cinnamon buns. Yesterday I gobbled two with my morning tea then I chased the decadence with a bowl of plain Greek yogurt (penance for sure) and fresh strawberries. This is called balancing my dietary chakras. Om.

Montmorency cherry tree

Crows keep me company on my daily walks and bike rides, which are not nearly long enough to counter the effects of cinnamon buns, but are good for my mental health as well as my cardiovascular system. Now that the fruit on our Montmorency cherry tree is ripe, the corvids greet me in the morning from its branches as they devour the sour morsels and I contemplate my schedule for the day. After they make a burp-like noise, which sounds shockingly human, and flap to the grass in the adjacent field and toddle about in search of their next course, I hoist my derriere out of my chair and put on my sneakers and meet them outside.

I head down the shady Sawmill Creek path. They hop behind me pecking at the grass and then lift off and follow the creek and disappear, cackling over the treetops. For a while it is quiet, until I head north on Queensdale Avenue when I hear one crow call over and over.

He’s perched on a smokestack overlooking a thin wedge of scraggly pines and birch trees and beyond that the bulrushes in Leitrim Creek’s wetland. It sounds like a lament to me but I’m a bit of a romantic. It could very well be a warning to other crows. Stay away. My turf here.

Yes, Ellen, Ottawa has swamps.

The thing is, whether I walk or ride my bike in the early morning or at lunchtime or just before dusk, that bird is there and he’s always talking. I hear him as I turn left again at the next street and make my way home. His voice follows me for a good kilometre or more. It has a strange echoing quality.

Our youngest daughter used to chatter non-stop. From the age of two to about four, she talked from the moment she woke until she went to bed and still, from bed, she would holler at us. I think she needed reassurance we were there, and she used her voice to keep us focused on her. Even when I was in the shower, she would stand outside the bathroom door and continue her soliloquy. I was incapable of having a thought of my own and I wished with all my heart she would just stop talking for five minutes so there would be space in my brain.

I think of her as I listen to the crow’s calls behind me. Now, at 20, we’re lucky to get a dozen words out of our daughter so maybe that’s why I’m paying such close attention to the crow. Atonement perhaps? I hear it. I’m paying attention.

As I approach home, I pass the small cemetery belonging to the local Catholic church. It’s a newish installation from the middle of the last century but despite that it has a pretty border of tall pine trees and scattered among the graves are a few apple trees and small shrubs. Gracing two large headstones are four crows, all of them facing the same direction and all of them with their mouths open, their tongues still. Are they waiting for the dead to speak? Could the dead be speaking but only the crows can hear? If that’s the case, its comforting to know the crows are on the job. Even the dead need to be heard.

Graveyard

“Hi crows,” I say as I pass them.

As is their polite way, they bob their heads and then, one by one, fly into a maple tree waiting for someone else to come by and take interest.

Om.

31 thoughts on “Are You Paying Attention?

  1. I love the way you write. *sigh* I always feel like I am transcended and I’m sad when it’s over.
    More om is definitely where it’s at lately and so often that’s outdoors. When it’s not, for me, it should include pajamas, frozen desserts, adult beverages — and this weekend? caramel glazed pecan cinnamon buns. Okay? Okay.

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    • Yeah. She’s brilliant, right? I have a thick volume of her poetry beside my bed called “Devotions” which is selected poetry from her long career and which I dip into nearly every day.

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      • Oh lucky you!!!! I have Oliver’s “A Poetry Handbook” on my poetry shelf in my dining area where I consult it often!! Will add her “Devotions” to my book wish list! Thanks!!

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  2. You sure enough can Garden Path a Slice of Life. And the vastness of territory covered! I would have lost my way in an interior monologue concerning a forever chirping child, but you cinnamon bundled it all up. If I had posted this I’d be crowing for a month. Thanks.

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    • I really, really liked this comment, r.Douglas and if I was half as good at commenting as you are, I’d have a gazillion followers. To be honest, the walk is not that far. It amounts to about a 40 minute ramble but I’m fortunate in living in a neighbourhood that has plenty of green space and fascinating critters – human and avian – to watch.

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  3. This made me smile. We also have wild cherry trees near us and someone — crows? — must enjoy the bounty as I see piles of excreted seeds in the grass when walking the dogs. Not a huge cherry fan (fruit is one of my few non-indulgences) but your hub’s sourdough bars sound amazing!

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    • I take it you’re a cemetery fan? They are fascinating places. I’d never poked around before in the one I mentioned, so after my walk I went back with my phone in hand and had a look. Its an older cemetery than I originally thought, probably going back to the 1920’s when everything around it was farmland and possibly a smaller family plot. There are a couple of headstones where the lettering is so worn you can’t read them anymore and a few toppled ones. My favourite graveyards are the ones we saw in England and are part of churchyards. Oh the stories they must have!

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      • Yes, I do love a good cemetery crawl. Pretty does, too! We often talk about the stories the stones must tell. Yes, sometimes the most intriguing are the ones that topple and the ones where the lettering is indistinct. Sounds like you have a good one!

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  4. Thanks for this Susanne it was nice. Glad to hear you are keeping up with your exercise routine. (I have been for the last some time now working out and walking for 45 mins with Audrey everyday) it does the mind and body good! CAW! CAW! Speaking of crows I have never seen a dead one. Where do they go to die?

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    • Even in the oppressive heat, I’m getting out there. The last few days I’ve been up and out by 6:30 before the temps rise. It feels good. I’m up to one hour cycling at a go which for me is the most I’ve done in years. The trick was not trying to do it all at once. It took several weeks to build up to that but it sure feels good! And good to read you and Audrey are getting out, too. Keep those bones strong! I’ll ask the graveyard crows next time I see them what they do with their dead. I’ll get back to you. 😉

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  5. Wonderfully written slice of life! I also had a little chatterbox of a daughter. Between she and her older, also chatty brother (now much more silent), there were days when if I heard the word Mommy one more time I swear I was gonna jump out of my skin. 😁

    Deb

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  6. A lovely read. I smiled at the indulgences – something in our lives has to be sweet, right? My son, like your daughter, was a chatty child who grew up to be a quiet adult. I fear I shushed it out of him. I talk to the birds too. Om.

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