Bad Omens

Last Sunday afternoon, our new neighbours contacted us, wondering if we wanted to go kayaking with them. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so Ken and I agreed. We launched at one bridge outside of town, with the intention of getting out at the next bridge which, by car, was less than two minutes away. It was a gorgeous day, and after paddling for ABOUT AN HOUR, I said, “Hey, how long is this going to take?” because my shoulder was still not 100% despite the 4 shock wave treatments I’d had. And let me clarify for everyone right now that it’s NOT electroshock—it’s sound waves and has nothing to do with my brain at all, although if it did, I might have been able to think twice about a kayak trip that looked like it would take half an hour as the crow flies, but in fact took over two hours as the river meanders.

Anyway, we’d been on the water for a little while and it was very peaceful. Suddenly around the bend, we saw a giant bird. It was a green heron, sitting on the bank. As we got closer, Ken tried to get a picture of it, but it took off, flapping its giant wings. We were sad, but not too much farther upstream, there was another green heron. And then a blue heron. And then a WHITE ONE. And what I had forgotten is that herons are not so much a breathtaking natural wonder but a very bad omen. Once, many years ago when I was still teaching, I had a department head who was an earth mother type. She and her husband had just installed a huge pond in their backyard, and stocked it with very large and expensive koi fish. One morning, she came into our office, breathless with excitement.

“I looked out my kitchen window,” she said to all of us gathered around, “and there, shrouded in the morning mist, stood a heron. It was so majestic and wonderful!” (We were English teachers and talked like this all the time).

“Oh!” said a young ingenue. “I just looked it up and herons are a sign of good fortune and progress. Lucky you!”

Everyone mooned about the heron, all of us wishing we had one too. But then the next morning, our leader returned, dejected.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

“The heron ate all my koi,” she replied tearfully.

So herons are basically harbingers of doom, and if I’d remembered that at the time, I would have paid more attention to the obviously dire message that the string of heron sightings was meant to convey and I wouldn’t have found myself caught up on rocks in a section of rapids, with my kayak rapidly filling up WITH said rapids, screaming to Ken for help. We managed to tip my kayak and drain most of the river out of it right then and there, but the water was moving so fast that I lost my balance several times, causing both my flipflops to come off, leaving me hopping around barefoot on very sharp rocks. I spent the rest of the trip, which took ANOTHER HOUR, sitting in 4 inches of water sans shoes. Still, the weather was charming and the company was good, despite the herons and their pall of ill fortune.

And I would have been well to have remembered that on Wednesday, when I turned from my desk and caught a glimpse of something strange on our front porch railing. From where I was sitting, it looked like a large animal hunched over. My tolerance for things has become remarkably low since the lockdown started so my first reaction was, “What the f*ck is on my porch at 9 o’clock in the morning?!” I was additionally trepidatious, having already been terrorized the day before by a psychotic squirrel that had slammed spreadeagled into the window inches from my head during a meeting, causing me to jump and shriek, which in turn caused my team to jump and yell, “What’s happening?! Should we call 911? Qu’est ce qui se passe? Appelle la police!” And then I had to explain that it was only a squirrel. Outside.

So I very cautiously crept to the front door and peeked out the window to see A HERON perched on my railing. I still hadn’t put two and two together with the bad luck and whatnot, so I was like, “Cool!” I texted Ken: Come down quietly—there’s a heron on the porch.

Slight tangent: Ken and I have always owned houses with two stories, and because I don’t want to damage my voice by constantly yelling up at him, and because Ken has terrible hearing (Ken: No, I don’t! Me: What? I can’t hear you.) we’ve always had either an intercom system, two-way radios, or other means of communication between floors because—and you may be surprised to hear this—I talk a lot. Luckily now we can just text each other.

Ken tiptoed downstairs and we were both amazed at this giant bird just sitting there. We got some pictures before it suddenly spread its massive wings and took off. But then I remembered those ill-fated koi from many years ago and insisted that we go out and check our small pond to make sure the goldfish were still intact. They were. But as we were patrolling the garden, we found a tiny mourning dove with a broken wing in the bushes right below the heron’s perch. After doing some research, we discovered that herons will also attack and eat smaller birds, which explains why it was hovering like a f*cking vulture on my porch railing. Ken called a rehabilitation centre for wildlife in the next town over, and drove the dove there. We haven’t heard if it survived, but I hope so.

Long story short, herons are assholes.

 

Stressed By Nature

Well, the weather is FINALLY starting to be more acceptable for Canada in May, which of course means that you only wear a sweater in the morning until about 1 pm, then you can take it off for two hours and then put it back on at 3 o’clock. The nice thing about my home office is that it’s drenched in sunshine all morning, which I hate to complain about, but it’s hard to see the computer screen for the glare. Still, as we say in Canada whenever we can, about literally all weather, “It’s better than snow”. Also, from my vantage point, I can watch the woodland creatures like a stalker-y Snow White, but I have to say that nature is stressing me out.

Last week, I decided to be kind to the squirrels and bought a big bag of shelled peanuts. I put them out and the little fellas were having a great time until the Blue Jays showed up. (For those of you picturing a group of strapping young men tossing a baseball around my yard, believe me, I was just as disappointed as you.) They kept swooping in and stealing the nuts, even though there’s a BIRDFEEDER 20 feet away. It was infuriating, and between meetings, and sometimes during them, I was shaking my fist and swearing like a baseball player. So Ken suggested that I move the peanuts to a spot under the trees next to my window:

Ken: It’s a great spot. You can watch the squirrels eating their nuts while you’re working and the branches hang low enough that the jays can’t swoop in and upset you.
Me: Well, it IS upsetting. They’re like those people who were hoarding toilet paper. And now those same people are hoarding tofu. TOFU!!

(Slight tangent: It’s true. The other day I was at the grocery store and I wanted some tofu. There’s been a rumour going around that meat is getting a bit low due to problems in the processing plants but it looked fine to me. I’m not a vegan—I mean, you’d know if I was because I would be telling you about it every week—but I actually really like tofu, so I went to the vegetarian cooler where there’s usually a plenitude of soy products, and all the tofu was gone. Well, not ALL the tofu—they still had the soft stuff, which is disgusting, and something called “Dessert Tofu” and I was like, “I’m not a monster, so no.” I guess the last laugh is on all the people who cleaned out the cooler because a) you can’t keep 40 bricks of tofu in your laundry room cupboard in case you need to wipe your ass 4 months from now, b) it doesn’t taste like meat, even if if says it does, because that’s a lie, and c) if you’re a man and you eat a lot of tofu, which contains estrogen, you will grow boobs. It’s a scientific fact which I just googled.)

Anyway, I put the aluminum pie plate filled with peanuts under the tree by my window, and everything was fine for a bit. The first squirrel came along, zigzagging the way they do, like they’re pretending they don’t have a clue that there’s a cornucopia of nutty delight just waiting for them. Then he found the nuts, picked one up, and gave it a sniff. ‘Aw,’ I thought, ‘That’s so cute.’ But then the squirrel took the peanut, hopped a couple of steps away, and BURIED IT. My pleasure turned to perplexity. The squirrel zigzagged back to the pie plate, took another peanut and buried that one. And another one. And another one, until half the plate was gone. Just then, I got a Zoom notification and had to go to a meeting:

Colleague 1: Good morning, Suzanne! How are you?
Me: I…there’s this squirrel stealing all my nuts out of the pie plate under my window.
Colleague 2: A squirrel is stealing all ze nuts?
Me: Yes, and burying them in the grass!
Colleague 3: Maybe it’s putting them away for winter.
Me: But winter is over 3 months away! (*This is Canada, remember?*)
Colleague 1: Maybe you should put the nuts somewhere you can’t see them.
Colleague 3: I agree. You don’t need this stress.
Me: It’s not fair. He’s hoarding them and now the other squirrels can’t have any.
Colleague 2: Ah, oui—just like ze toilet paper.
Me: And the tofu!

(I had to take a quick break from writing this post because Ken interrupted me:

Ken: I’m going down to the basement to fix the sum pump.
Me: The sump pump?
Ken: Sum pump?
Me: I think it’s sump.
Ken: Sump. Yeah, I think you’re right. That’s what I thought too but it sounded weird.
Me: Weirder than sum?
Ken: What does sump stand for anyway?
Me: Um…Subterranean…underwater…mechanical………pump?
Ken: Does it?
Me: Absolutely. I just googled it. It’s a scientific fact.

Back to writing.)

Then on Thursday, Ken and I were in the back yard when we heard this beautiful birdsong. We looked around just as a goldfinch flew past us and landed on our patio door screen.

“Quick!” I said, “Get a picture!” Ken got right close and took a picture of it, and it didn’t show any sign of flying away, so I crept closer until I was able to reach out a finger and pet it on the head. It still didn’t move—it just kept singing away. So I took another step and stroked its feathers. It was still for a minute then it launched off the screen and tried to land on my arm, at which point I think it realized I wasn’t a Disney Princess but was, in fact, a human woman, freaked itself out, and tried to escape by flying into my hair, which freaked me out, and we both kind of screamed, and I ran into the house and the goldfinch flew into a tree. But it was a nice moment. For a moment.

As a final note, I just want to say thank you to everyone for all your words of comfort and support last week. And I need to tell you that I will never ever again write about our new young neighbours in any critical way because when I stumbled to the end of their driveway sobbing a week ago last Wednesday and told them our dog had just died and that Ken needed some help moving him, they immediately and without question (although I’m sure they had MANY), dropped what they were doing (literally–it was a hose and they were washing their truck again but that’s not a criticism; in fact, it’s nice that they take such good care of all their vehicles, right?) and ran across the street to help us (yes, we maintained social distancing). And a couple of nights ago, I looked out my kitchen window and could see them in their breezeway. “Look,” I said to Ken. “The new neighbours are dancing!” and with that, we saw him pick her up in the air and twirl her around and she laughed, and it was one of the sweetest things I’ve seen in a long time. So it turns out that we’re the weird neighbours after all, which should come as no surprise to anyone.