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.