Blackbird Fly…

This is a re-run of a little story from a year or so ago. I’d made a bit of a startling discovery that would provide me with an amusing relationship until this Spring. 

At that time, I realized I’d entered a murderous circle, a plethora of new friends, and an opportunity to crow a little about it, if you will…

… The story of how I’d met my latest gang and a renewed sense of awe for their amazing wits began over a series of 8 Wednesdays.  I’d shared a snack with a few crows that hung around my parking lot. All was a few minutes of cool amusement and then I went on my way.  I didn’t see them again until the following week, another Wednesday. So, I again shared my snack.

The third Wednesday I came out to a whole row of them on the power lines above me, waiting. That made me laugh, but alas, I had no snacks. I couldn’t believe they learned in only 2 sessions which day of the week I’d likely have snacks and about the fact that they knew which day of the week it was!

The next Wednesday, they were there again. Not the day before nor after. Of course I came duly prepared. In the weeks that followed, they changed up the timing a little. As the days got warmer, it seemed as though they decided it was better to come by for a cooler morning treat, so they waited for me to arrive instead. Not one to be seen during my departure in the hot afternoon. Now, about that fact they knew what time I’d arrive!

I guess I could say they trained me as efficiently as my dog has. Absolutely nothing bird-brained about these amazing educators. They paid me back for the sustenance devotion with regular rounds of laughs at their antics and their propensity to show off how they easily outwit other birds.

They got quite brave, or comfortable with me as they’d confidently land at my feet. I especially enjoyed their calls to me as they came down. They alternated between this loud repetitive clicking and what sounded like tongue clucking. Maybe they were just swearing at me in Crow, but I’m choosing to believe they were saying, hey, good to see ya.

They continued their visits faithfully until later this Spring. For the most part, they just stopped showing up. Now and then a straggler or two would come, but then even they finally disappeared.

That’s life, isn’t it? Friends come, and then they go, and these fellas were no different. They definitely changed the drift of  ‘hump day’ for a while though.

I miss them.

You need to click on this pic to get the detail in his glorious face. This fella is the ring leader. He seems to be in charge of summoning the troops and declaring when it’s safe enough to pick through my offerings. He also seemed to be in the mood for this photo shoot. He posed this way and that as he watched for me to toss treats and coos of praise for this grand handsomeness.

RL

 

Second Chances

25 years ago on this day, the impact two special friends had on my life was solidified. I send my love to all who knew them and felt the same. This is a reprise of something I published a few years ago…

————————————————————————————

There was an article in 1998 that warned young reporters were getting their careers turned around by getting too involved with their stories, sometimes even making up details.  I know it seems like a simple case of common sense to just not do either, but if you’re in touch with emotions and recording certain events, that’s not always do-able.

When I wrote as a correspondent in the wilds of northwestern Ontario 25 yrs ago, I experienced something similar. Despite the seemingly tranquil setting of an aurora borealis framed mini mecca of 600, called Pickle Lake, I actually wrote quite a variety of stories around events that would rival any city. To be fair, there were another 600 or so around the town.

My ‘beat’ covered a collection of assaults, robberies, and murder, and my community profiles provided just as much color.  All of this belies the fact that despite that record, most people in the area couldn’t be a stronger, kinder, and more generous humankind sample.

I want to recount one story that I wrote then, that I wish I could re-write now.

One of my favorite “P.L.” adventures, which took even me by surprise, was joining the town’s volunteer ambulance service.  I studied the necessary courses until I qualified, completed by also getting the license to drive the ambulance aka the ‘bus, which incidentally also qualifies you to drive an actual bus.

One of the senior attendants was a fellow by the name of Dave Halteman.  Dave was one of those friendly folksy type that make a name for themselves by being ready to help anyone, any time. He owned the local auto repair and service station, which also served as the base for all kind of local rescue.  I think one of his favorites was pulling my car out of a few snowbanks and ditches on those bitter winter roads, and for the record, local jeer-ers, I was not the only one.

Dave was up for anything, which he was called to do often, but most of his town volunteering was devoted to the fire and ambulance departments. He did a fantastic job assisting the oversight of those critical services.  Of course, it goes without saying those jobs take some bravery, and it turned out his personal bar was set at -quite high-.

He willingly took on the job to train a skinny, completely citified, 115 lb. greenhorn. Think about what it would take to teach that winning combo how to hoist a 95 lb. stretcher holding a 200 lb. patient into the back of an ambulance and then drive back to the clinic without skidding off the icy roads, and without breaking a nail.  Yeah, he was cool with priorities like that.

Dave’s easygoing nature didn’t mean easy; he made for darn sure I knew we were working for lives, for real.  Luckily, his patience level was set at -infinite-, because I definitely tested that bar too.  When I bungled, I got a stare that I would answer with my own mortified gape. Then this laugh would ring out.  Anyone who ever heard it, would agree – one of a kind.  Infectious. Unforgettable.

Whoever was treated to that laugh was also served by his decency.  He made a friend out of pretty much everyone who crossed his path because of his honest belief in ‘do unto others’.  Despite all the heroics of his emergency work, this was probably what earned him the most and deepest regard overall.  To say he was beloved to many is not an overstatement, his personality filled a town.

So on that December day, when the news came that his plane went down on the way home from a hunting trip, shock reverberated throughout the region.  No one could believe it and no one wanted to. Many of us held hope that there’d been a mistake. We would learn that the crash took not only Dave, but also his endearing and respected son-in-law, Everett Moore.  Ev was soft-spoken, tall, handsome, filled with kindness, and so young.

The town became still in the days that lead up to the funeral service. As everyone struggled to comprehend that what happened was real, the two caskets at the front of the community hall laid down all hope for good.

Those of us who served with Dave were privileged to stand in observance as his Honour Guard. The hall seats filled quickly, and everyone else stood outside on a bright, but frigid day listening through speakers.  There were several hundred who stood in that biting cold for the entire service and the interment.  I’m sure desire for relief from that cold was strong, but it couldn’t overcome the desire to pay those deeply felt respects.

The town took a while to rev back to some kind of normal. We learned there was a lot of navigating to figure out how to carry on without the steady assurances and answers of Dave.  We did though, because in many ways, the footprints he laid down were clear enough for us to follow, and so he still shaped worthwhile aspects of our own capabilities.

I wish I could have written all this in that memoriam story years ago, but I was too involved in my own grief. I couldn’t get myself to the place that does justice to the role of reporting, and in service to people who knew he deserved so much more.

I hope what I can put down now, this little bit more, will add to the legacy of how well Dave and Ev impacted people.

One last thing still bears saying too.  For a long time, many of us would often say how we’d give anything to hear that Dave laugh again.  The truth is, when I think of him I still do, and I believe that whenever we think of him, most of us still do.

RL

PostScript: I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Managing Editor, Thunder Bay Chronicle, Nick Hirst, for helping me cobble together the part of the story I did then.

Hello to my old friends in Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang First Nation who stood out in the cold with us that day.

Kill Me Now Karma – Formally Known as Do Not Write a Reference Letter This Way, Reprised

I made a terrible mistake in a reference letter once. Granted I was very young and new to the processes of supervision and management. My only training had been being thrown directly into the fire.  Actually, I think they used me as kindling.

As it happens, I was eventually asked to write letters of reference.  Unfortunately, one of those early requests was for someone that I would’ve preferred not to do, but I felt a little obligated and truthfully, I also had semi-dark reasoning.   I was hopeful that it might help us get rid of her faster.

typewriter and paper for 46She regaled us daily with constant complaints. Unfortunately, her desire to provide suggestions for improvement didn’t match her primary efforts.  She also questioned whether every request was really necessary and then she moved at the speed of cold honey to complete them.

Various versions of our days of whine and quease ran through my mind as I struggled with what to say in the letter.  In the end I managed to write that she was a good employee who reliably came to work and could be recommended to competently complete processing general work in repetitive format.

And then she was gone. Yay!

A couple of years later, it was time for me to move on too.  I was thrilled with my new position in a really dynamic up and coming company. It was about a year into this job when guess who applied for a position at the same place?  When some asked me about her because of our mutual previous employer, I said I only knew of her and that I couldn’t really say much else.

I was underwhelmed at the thought of her presence in the building, but I was really unprepared for the news that she would be coming to work in my department, once again under my supervision.  Was I an ax murderer in a previous life, Karma?

I was ready to throw back scotch shots, multiple scotch shots, and I can’t even look at that stuff without thinking esophageal transplant. I still don’t understand how scotch isn’t really automotive fuel additive.  I wholly entertained “kill me now, Karma” thoughts.

To make a long story short, and to shorten the building horror of my damaging memories, I’ll just move onto the day my scotch bottle needs blew up.  My frustrations uncorked with an unbridled request for her to complete her duties.  As in, “Why can’t you just shut the hell up and do your damned job”?

I didn’t realize how loudly I‘d made my request until I saw the company VP strolling down from the other end of the building to ask if I was OK.  Then he asked me to come and speak with him in his office. Yep, thats a walk of shame right there, especially when it’s with somebody you deeply respect.

We engaged in the discussion of what happened and why and how I couldn’t understand how we could move ahead in any meaningful way with such an obvious lack of fit, as she clearly was.

He turned to a bank of files and pulled out a folder.  In measure of fair play, or maybe just a little bit of play, he asked me if I was sure she wasn’t competent enough to work for the company.  I answered with certainty; no, she is not.  Then he handed me a copy of a reference letter she’d provided. Yup. Why couldn’t he have just handed me a few shots of automotive fuel additive instead?

I could only, again, will for death as he explained that, of course part of the reason she’d been hired was because of my own words speaking for her.  I had no reply.  I sat there in bitter disappointment at how death was unwilling to respond. I instead willed for that block of the city to be struck hard by a sudden and deeply distracting earthquake.  No luck there either.  I ended up mumbling some claptrap about trying to do better and slithered out the door.

As it turned out, my department was soon going to be relieved revised anyway and she was being moved to another department.  Fortunately, that little ‘situation’ worked out for the both of us, but it left me with a lot to contemplate, and to learn, especially when it came to  reference letters.

I learned how to say “sorry, no can do” when I had to, and more importantly, I got a much firmer grip on the seriously wise adage of  ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’. There was just no way I could take another possibility of having to turn to scotch.

RL

A Musing Tale For Two, Three & Seven | Short Story

As the smoke swirled, Seven pushed at her temple to dull the pain and reel in relief at the realization that she’d not only survived, she’d pulverized him. Them. She’d denied them her extinquishment by the Demon disguised as Sisyphus in noble despair and his allies. Seven had once been an ally too, one of many that learned too late, that his pleas for protection are from his own orchestrations.

One after another, they’d placed their feet over the steps of the previous muse, believing they’d obliterated his disconsolate past. They were his healers, celestially heralded of course, and each proclaimed as the most extraordinary. Each an intricate weaving of beauty & grace until every strand of that understanding was pulled, crushed and tossed. The quintessential death by a 1000 cuts; slash by tiny slash, they were to be broken down and bled …for his pleasure.

Only one remained, number Three. It still believed in the script; It was the most inclined because It was trained to be. It was raised with the sensibility of a good and loyal and refined Republican, where desire for approval is ingrained and longing to be seen burns deep. Keeping them hungry is the most effective Republican control and Three was the hungriest. Three yearned for the rewards of applying oneself – praise, praise, and praise be to those who praise. It took only a moment to affect humility when fed a fresh, crispy glory morsel.

Three was most like him – claiming to be a gentle soul fighting evil, especially for women, even while triumphantly clinking wineglasses with him, partner in joy & melancholy, this limited modern Aristotle/Martin Luther combo. They’d bonded over their number one tenet: Don’t tell me what I can’t do. These sort are also rarely accustomed to admitting error. Oh, how the Demon appreciated how easy Three made Itself for molding.

Seven saw Three now alone on the field – she watched for a while as It scrambled for attention, begging for more and more approval and admiration. She smirked at all of Its contortionist squirming to meet real daring, to be regarded as genuine badassery while still being the picture of educated refinement. Seven watched as It continued to vie for the top of a heap that never really existed.

Seven was reminded of it all, while comforted within the safety of Michael’s wings and sword. She knew the inevitable ending and although Three’s arrogance made the thought of Its own unwinding amusing, she knew even a conceited Three was also a victim. Still, she also knew even if Three was warned with a literal Demon mind-reading presentation, Three wouldn’t budge from Its self-coveted title of latest ‘number one compassionate soul’.

Three would never admit that It never actually saw a real tear from the Demon, nor that his every manipulation always pulled Three back from any logic, always replaced with emotional diversion. No, It’s too smart to fall for that, after all he’d acknowledged Its many karats of perfection over and over. He’d heroically shored up Its inner warrior: “Join the rebellion, show some skin, say the word fuck out loud in public more”. Ooo, such a trouper, that Three be.

Three would learn that Its own ‘growth’ was only about being exposed for what It really was all along. Every word, every photo, every plea for following… It’s a tricky world alright, but especially for a muse willfully blinding Itself for the win.  All the Numbers reveled in the knowledge that smugness too, is a temporary state.

Despite the humiliation, the Demon constantly reaches for her, but Seven, like the others was already in a place untouchable by his lowliness. The nightmare of shallow Demons & their Fems is temporary hellfire for most.

As Michael ascended, Seven became aware of the Demon’s lock of hair still caught in her fingers. She unwound it and held it over one of the fires. She smiled as the flames lifted and seized it, and the battle pains eased as the field of charred red and its last inhabitants faded from sight.

RL

When Robyns Soar

“Mom – mom come here now – a crow just grabbed a robin in the air!” I ran to the front window to join my son, who was staring wide-eyed at what was taking place in our front yard. There was indeed a crow with a robin in its claws, but they were now on the grass. The robin was struggling under the crow as it tightened its grip and then began to peck at the smaller bird with brute force.  Within minutes, a carpet of grey and red feathers covered my lawn.

I watched the crow continue to peck at it until all movement briefly stopped. Then the crow picked up its victim to carry it to the middle of our street – presumably because the harder paved surface made it easier to dig into flesh. That’s only a guess, as is why my response, even while horrified, was to grab my camera. I kept clicking and recording every motion of the bird’s devouring power. It didn’t take long to reduce the robin to a few small ribbons of red flesh, which it then picked up again and flew off with.

I stayed at that window quite a while after, until that early spring day started to darken. I know I was dumbfounded at what I’d witnessed and by the sheer amount of feathers laying from one end of my yard to the other. How could so many feathers come from one tiny little bird? It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the ‘cold, hard facts of nature’, but there was an additional layer to the feelings this time. As the event faded, I was filled with a sense of dark foreboding.

Hindsight, of course can play into the narrative of any thoughts, but what was to follow within my own world not very long after, made it seem like that feeling wasn’t really all that out of line after all.

In a matter of months and over the next 3 years, I endured the loss of someone I adored beyond measure, part of the centre of my world, next to my son; followed by a devastating and punishing betrayal by someone I’d loved and leaned on while coping; and serious health crises over 2 years that would ultimately break me down to my own demise, albeit only momentarily. Beware the truthful tales of bad news descending in threes.

I know those events are whole stories of their own, but I wrote about them through the journey. I don’t much feel the need to recount the details now. In some ways, they almost seem like a lifetime ago. They were centre stage, but part of the play was the way those birds continued to star in revealing what was to come.

The next spring, my son and I went for a walk along a river. As we were talking, we were suddenly interrupted by a flash of black that passed right in front of us. It was a crow speeding toward the tree line to our left and it was being quickly pursued by a very vociferous little robin. My son and I looked at each other and we both reacted to that unexpected turn in events with a deep inner, ‘Whoa’.

That wasn’t the end though. As we went further, we next saw that little robin chasing after another bird, but this time it was 2 hawks! I know I was very relieved I wasn’t the only one seeing this. Who would believe me? Dare I even tell you that the last time we saw that little fierce fireball, she was chasing after an eagle? Well, she did. I don’t know if it was a she; it just felt right to assume that.

Of course, I pondered and wondered about the amazing activity of that day for some time. I also took solace in it. It seemed to confirm for me, that even though I was in the midst of major recovery on several levels, I would be fine and perhaps in some ways, even far mightier.

The experiences of those years had completely broken me and I needed to hold onto something bigger than me to keep moving forward. It wasn’t long after that, the resources I needed to begin the healing on all levels fell into place and I was on my way to becoming this newest version of me.

This brings us to this year… The edges of all that pain have been buffered and eased. I’m still regaining my physical strength, but I’ve made great strides in that. The rawness of my world has been tempered with understanding through grief therapy, and my re-connection to the teachings of my culture has pulled me through what I think (hope) is the last of the intergenerational wounds that left me vulnerable to a particular kind of predation. It’s a lifetime’s work, I know. I still have some way to go, but I know where to turn when any circumstances arrive to test my abilities. This is major healing weaponry.

So, what about this spring? Well, for over a week, I’d come home and have the be-gee-zus scared out of me as I walked to my front door. Yet another robin seemed to come out of nowhere. It would dart back and forth across my yard, but not straying beyond the trees of my property line. It would turn this way and that, sometimes even hopping onto the grass and bouncing along, in and out of my hedges. Of course, I grabbed my camera. Strangely, the little bird still wouldn’t move much even as I approached, clicking away. The next day, when I was once again, startled by the little red burst of flight, it suddenly (and finally) dawned on me; there must be a nest close by.  I scoured all the hedges in the front of my house and found – nothing.

I hadn’t been looking close enough. I have a honeysuckle vine on the post at my front door. In that unlikely spot, almost right in front of my eyes the whole time, was one of the sweetest sights I’ve ever seen. When I’d moved a few branches to look for a nest, three enormous beaks with eyes popped up. Utterly adorable, and the sense of renewal within that literal new birth presentation lit up my heart like Christmas lights.

 

I enjoyed their presence for only a few more days after I’d discovered them.  It was a little saddening, on the day I came home and they were all gone, but they did leave that beautiful, perfect little nest. I waited a few more days just to make sure they’d really flown off for good and then I brought the nest in. I moved a small bit of moss on the bottom and I discovered a gift within the gift – a most precious, tiny, glorious blue egg.  I placed it all in a round terrarium vase.

All the events of three years were succinctly re-wrapped in this unexpected bowl of symbolism. I choose to see this as the finishing touch on soothing old hurdles and as acknowledgement of the start of life for me on a whole new level. Certainly affirms the old adage, ‘big things come in small packages’. Oh, isn’t that the truth; the absolute honest truth?

So, here I go again.  A new round has begun. Cheers to small packages. The next time someone says life is for the birds, I’m going to say, “Yup, it sure is, at least, for me”. Thank God, and especially, all my grandmothers.

RL

Clean Houses & Terror

Last week I had the honour (& brief stomach churning fear) of hosting IndigenousXca on Twitter. As the forum notes: it’s a rotating Twitter account presented by a different Indigenous Host each week. Their hosts have included actors, activists, authors, academics, politicians, teachers, doctors, students, and one Pipisiw – me.

This forum was started in Australia in 2012 and in Canada in 2014 as a platform for Indigenous people to share their knowledge, opinions and experiences with a wide audience which is now a following of several thousand.

As I was getting my feet wet with a few opening tweets, one of the administrators posted a point about clean houses. What about ‘em?  Well, let me share my tweets on how a clean house affected my family. No hyperbole, no “other mitigating circumstances”. …

I saw @apihtawikosisan (Chelsea Vowel) post about fears for Indigenous people around a clean house. What that means, as she pointed out, is a clean enough house. As in clean enough to not have your kids taken away. Her post tightened my belly…

It took me back to those moments when I was a child & the air all around us got thick & tight, while my mother would fly around the house with sweat falling off her face from a mix of the physical labour of madly cleaning & terror.

Even as little kids, my sisters & I would instinctively jump to help because we knew this kind of cleaning meant a social worker was coming. We didn’t even know what the consequences of not having “a clean house” really meant, but we knew what it felt like. Breathing was hard.

The government had a power over my mother that terrified her, until it broke her & then we learned “or else” meant we were going to be taken away.

My mother had already lived enough in terror, my father was a broken man & he alone put her through enough by then. She got away from him and what she needed was help – not constant judgement, especially for pittances that kept her on another tight leash.

I remember she was often told she was not to drink. She was not to have any contact with my dad, no men at all, they said, & she needed to keep a clean house. Or else.

Today, I wonder what might have been had any of us been offered a place for our fears then. If my mom had been offered support for coping and maybe even a pat on the back for having got her 6 babies away from an abusive situation by herself.

Maybe supportive, restorative measures weren’t well understood back then, but they are now. All this money poured into employment for provinces in the guise of social work. All the training for foster parents and adoption processes…

All the money given to municipalities in support of those foster parents & restoring municipalities, like the re-opening of schools in New Brunswick because the loads of Indigenous foster kids revived their town to that degree.

copy missing family

Why isn’t this money used for family restorative healing in our communities instead? I feel I answered my own question with my question, because Canada uses the Indigenous not only for land & resources, but constant make-work industries that still terrify mothers (& fathers) to this day.

I hadn’t thought about these particular experiences for years and my visceral reaction to reading Chelsea’s words was very unexpected. What’s still infuriating is that these Indigenous truths are still happening to many families even as I type these words. The stories are noted on Twitter, social media and news media daily.

Yes, it’s all real, and most Canadians remain blissfully unaware of such threats. They can’t even begin to fathom that the dishes sitting in their sink and the dirt on their floor could be enough cause to lose their babies, and in some cases, for good.

Most can’t grasp the depth of Indian Act-induced poverty, and the effects of life under constant judgement and duress and the numerous consequences; the falls into addictions, the escalating abuses in homes, the needs for mental healthcare and on and on and on.

A messy house still terrifies my 75 yr. old aunt. She became OCD about it to this day. My 75 yr. old mom has learned to relax about it – a little, finally.  Me?  Years of counseling to work out those terrors and I’m now a certified horrible housekeeper – and I don’t give a damn. Of course, my child is now 16; we are reasonably safe.

RL

Tales From The Heart: Dad

Nova Scotia, July 2017

Of great character
Lovely men earn the prizes
Strong and gentle wins

Cowards wilt in their presence
Fight or flight; laugh while they run

Haiku / Tanka

 

I’ve written a few times about the days of my childhood, when my mother was alone or alone within the presence of an abusive man who tormented her and her children. I’ve even written a bit about that broken man. Yet, I’ve never been able to really put down a word of meaning about the man who would ultimately become my beacon of manly decency, the barometer for all who’d follow and be measured against.

No matter how hard I tried to write a nod of love for Father’s Day or his birthday, whatever event, I would draw a blank or the words I put down felt far too much like a eulogy. Even when I wanted to relay one of his famous tales of hilarity, I’d cringe at how much it felt like I was standing at a funeral lectern; the same feelings washed over me as did when I delivered a eulogy for one of his grandchildren.

Then, this summer holiday, during our annual events of hugs and dinner talk, huge laughter, day trips, familial eye-rolling impatience, and intense political arguments that look like someone’s about to get offed, I entered epiphany territory. If I didn’t say these things now, for him, to him, ultimately my words really would simply become the very thing I feared.

So here it is, not a “Happy Something Day” anything. Just a summer hug to my dad, who as a step-father, stepped in it and all over it in his own inimitable way, to become the embodiment of what a man of decency and character should be. Whose heart was far bigger than he needed to shelter us. Whose protective and respectful love is genuine and unreserved.

He’s shown how it’s done after screw ups. Oh yes, he’s definitely a pro at screwing up, BUT he’s equally adept at employing his best to undo his infractions. His apologies are quick and he fills the holes of his failings with triple the ratio of acts of kindness. I’ve never met a man who wants to make up for his failings as badly as he. It’s one of his most admirable aspects which has repaid him with enormous, widespread respect.

Outside of that, he’s your basic straight shooter, what you see is what you get, and certainly honesty is a key attribute. Well, unless he’s got a story to tell. There’s no doubt he’s got a blarney bone floating in there, but that’s just one more lovable trait, right? I’ve not met anyone yet, who can tell a tale with his level of wit and witty circuitous routes. That’s bonus material right there.

Tin man 7.jpg

Oz never needed to give this Tin Man a heart

And so, if all this isn’t the embodiment of good character, what is? His shoes will always be a bit of a loose fit for someone to fill, but that ain’t no complaint by me. Damned certain neither of us will ever make apology for that. I hope when he sees this note, he’ll feel my respect too. Maybe he’ll even have seen something that surprises. Whatever his feelings, I do know I’ll get a hug not long after.

Thanks, Dad.

RL