Will Ye No Return?

I flew to New York City on August 29.  Naturally there was lots to do before that.  One of the tasks was to fill my two bird feeders – one with sunflower seed and the other with nyjer seed (for the finches).

I flew home on Monday, September 13, arriving at my door as darkness approached.  The next morning I looked out my living room window … and saw that both feeders were full!  Huh?  That didn’t compute.  Then I remembered that I’d used the dregs of the old bag of sunflower seed, rather than beginning the new one.  That must be it: seeds that were after their best before date.

In the spirit of thoroughness, I also guessed that it was time to clean the feeders.  Soaking them in bleach water for a day would cover another base.  And then I’d have birdies again!  The soaking took place on the Tuesday.  Wednesday was for rinsing off the toxic stuff and letting the feeders dry.  Thursday was reassembling the feeders, filling them with fresh seed, and returning them to their positions of previous glory.  It might take a day for my winged friends to find the renewed feeders but Saturday would be a fiesta of flapping wings and full stomachs.

Except it wasn’t.  Not a bird to be seen.

Sunday the same.

Which brings us to today.  I scanned the sky and found no small birdies, just a few turkey vultures in their graceful swoops of flight.  (Sigh)  I thought of the end of things.  Could this be one of those?  Did the birdies get together and decide that Belmont, Ontario would go on their no-fly list?  I sure hope not.  I love looking out the window at the feeder perches well occupied.

It makes no sense that it would be over.  But then much of life doesn’t make sense.  Please come back.  I miss you.

Late this afternoon, I heard a chirp, and then more.  It was a baby sparrow, atop one of the feeder poles.  And leaning in for food down below was mom.  Hello!  Welcome home.  Mom leapt up to the pole and frantically fed the young one, who was vigorously flapping his or her wings.  Surely this was a sign of things to come.  Mom would be a scout, drawing her friends back to gourmet gatherings.

We’ll see.  It’s quiet out there.

They Disappeared … and So Did I

The “they” are birds. The “I” is me. It’s been a month since I’ve written you. I just haven’t been interested. “No oomph” equals “no write” in my mind. But it seems so strange. One of my contributions on this planet is writing – hopefully writing that reaches people in their lives.

Actually I let myself be stopped. A month or two ago, I wrote a piece here that I knew was the best thing I’d ever written. And nobody, on WordPress or Facebook, said a peep about it. I felt sad. I went away. I let you folks determine my happiness. That was a mistake. I can’t guarantee I won’t make it again.

Anyway, hello to Saturday. It’s time to say a thing or two.


I love the birdies who come to my two feeders – sunflower and nyjer. Seeing my friends so close out my living room window has been a blessing. A week ago they stopped coming.

Just like that. No goldfinches. No sparrows. No redwinged blackbirds. And especially no mourning doves. They’re my favourite. It felt like friends turning their backs on me. I’d look out this window longingly, wondering which would be better – birdies flying by to somewhere else, or no birdies at all. Both have happened in the last few days.

I’ve felt the truth: I have no control about what the other chooses to do. There’s no cage, physical or mental, that will do the trick. I can set the scene for visitors but there may or not be a knock on the door.

There’s a bittersweet beauty in the absence of things well known. See that field out there? The rise of grass? Many feathered ones have graced those spaces over the past four years. I remember them well, and feel them still as the sky is empty.

I turned on my brain two days ago. “We had a huge rain awhile back. The seed must have got wet. No self-respecting birdie wants to peck away at porridge.” So I put dry seed in the feeders. Hours later, all remained still.

Yesterday was another chapter. “Bruce, you haven’t cleaned the feeders for a year or two! Don’t you remember how to do things?” Well, apparently not. A big bucket full of bleach water, dismembered feeder parts, several hours of soaking, a thorough rinse, and an overnight of drying brought me to this morning.

Before you is the result of such purification. Calm and unvisited towers of seed. Oh, there have been glimpses: two tiny ones on the perches of the nyjer feeder, and one brave soul chewing on sunflower seeds. Plus two mourning doves grazing on the ground beneath. But no sudden happy ending. Sounds like life.

Right at this moment, no birdies are with me. And yet they are.


My friend Marian and I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. The sun lit up the patches of snow and we shuffled our way through the icy spots.

Lots of folks were doing the same, and it was with great joy that we greeted them on the trail. It felt like long lost friends united within the beauty of the world.

Marian had been on this journey before, and early on our trek she stopped in a quiet, sheltered place. She listened, and so did I. There was the voice of a cardinal. I remembered it from way back in my past. But Marian was listening for something else: the call of the chickadee. It wasn’t there. So we walked on.

Sunlight flowed through the bare branches as we approached a crossing of the paths. A young family came by with sunflower seeds in their hands. Marian was similarly prepared. Three young arms extended but no birdies plopped down.

Soon it was just Marian and me at the crossroads. Palms up, we waited.


A touch. A landing. I moved my eyes down and to the left and there stood a tiny fluffball of feathers, weighing virtually nothing … but so very alive. He or she bit down on a seed, and then poof! Off to the dining room.

I was in awe. This bird had graced me with their presence and then left. This puny human had no power to control the proceedings. There were moments of here and some of not here. Both are lovely.

Marian and I welcomed many visitors over the next half hour – some tiny winged ones and some heavier ones, clothed in their parkas. Among them was a teenaged girl, accompanied by her grandma. Marian offered the gift of seed. “Can I?” she asked. Grandma nodded. The girl’s arm went horizontal and she waited. I could feel her heart beating fast.

Soon there was a call from further up the trail. “Hurry up!” The girl jerked to leave and both Marian and I silently willed her to stay. She lingered a few seconds more …

A heavenly visitor descended to her palm. The girl’s mouth opened wide and all of us shared in her wonder. It was the moment of the day.

The girl walked up the trail, turning her head to wave goodbye, and to show us a radiant smile. All it took to create such a sweet space was a handful of sunflower seeds and a few kind words.

Day Twelve Some More: Les Oiseaux

Let’s start with Iced Tea. Yesterday afternoon, I sat behind Lydia on her motorbike as we went over to the site of his home. Four sweating Senegalese men (including my hero) were setting concrete blocks in place and slathering on the mortar. And it was hot. Three walls were climbing and Iced Tea was smiling. Home ownership is a blessing.

My young friend in Canada has helped build those walls with his gift and I will join him in contributing. So richly deserved.

Late in the day, a friend named Ja Ja took Jo, Lore, Jean, Sabrine and me on his little boat. We headed out on the river to the mangroves, trees that grow in the water. We navigated narrow passages and saw oysters clinging from the roots. And then a dead end … roots hanging down in a semi-circular wall of silence. Truly a place to meditate.

Then it was back out on the open water, skimming across the surface and waving “Bonjour!” to folks in other boats. We were heading towards an island where Jo says people have lived for millions (!) of years, up until about a hundred years ago. For all those eternities, the people ate shellfish, and dropped the shells on the ground. Now there is a long and tall hill, about 100 feet high, composed entirely of shells. Grasses and bushes have grown over the remains of many centuries. The biabab trees stand way above the surface of the land. I crawled inside one and looked out at my friends. It was a sacred space.

As the sun declined, we were back on the boat, destined for a tiny island in the river. And then the birds began to gather on the branches – huge white cranes, large black ones and pelicans. For a half hour, we saw them soar in from all directions, over the low trees. Many hundreds of flying beings were settling down for the night. And we puny human beings got to watch, mostly in silence. Reverence.

There’s much more to come but soon we’ll be walking together to the next village. À bientot!

Birds Near Me

Out back I have two feeders – one for sunflower seeds and the other for nyjer seed. I love seeing the sparrows, finches and mourning doves when they come to call.

But three days ago, they stopped calling. The levels of seed haven’t diminished. There’s no “chirp, chirp, chirp” greeting me as I open my eyes. (Sigh)

Love them and let them go. So true … for human beings, lovely places and birds. Not knowing whether I’ll ever again see a dear soul from my long meditation retreat feels bitter … and somehow sweet. The same with Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where Jody and I spent two sublime vacations.

I know the birds will come back but I’m sitting here imagining my world without them. I am the lesser when marvelous beings depart. I know they’re out there somewhere and I’m happy when I think they’re flying high. On my back patio, there’s a space where birds belong. I can feel their presence within their absence.

Now I look out over the cornfield. No one flying. A dog barking way to the north. A few cars on Belmont Road. I lean towards the birds I don’t see, wanting them to return, and yet peaceful within what is.

And now a flock of twenty black ones enter my field of vision from the left. They swoop over the field and fall into a big old tree at the end. I watch them now, chattering together on a few dead branches.

“Come back!”

But the birdies will do as they will. I’m not in control. The river of life carries me along.

Birdies Come Here

Nature keeps teaching me stuff.  I hope I’m listening.

I live in a condo in Belmont, Ontario.  It’s a separate building that backs onto a farmer’s field.  I love being here.  Last fall, our builder planted deciduous trees at the back, one for each home.  Mine is about 12 feet tall.

Just outside my bedroom window, I have two bird feeders – one with nyjer seed for finches and the other with sunflower seeds for everybody else.  I love hearing the birds in the early morning and seeing them crowd around the feeders.  There is even a crew of mourning doves that rummage on the ground for stray seeds.  They’re all family to me.

The last three days, however, it feels like my family has gone on vacation.  I haven’t seen a single bird at the feeders.  Some folks hang out on the bare branches but they keep their distance.  And I get to watch my mind.

1. “There are more birdies on the neighbours’ tree than on mine.”

2. “Something is wrong with the seed.  Maybe it got wet in all that rain.”

3. “The birds like the neighbours’ seed better than mine.  I probably made a poor selection.”

4. “They’ll never come back.  My family is broken apart.”

5. “It just goes to show you that things don’t work out in life.”

Oh, Bruce.  Such a Negative Nester you are.  Didn’t you just spend three months at a meditation retreat, sharpening up your mind?  Well … yes I did.  But sometimes my thoughts still carry me away.

Much of the retreat was about letting go of things and people that I thought I needed to glom onto.  A birdless feeder is simply another teacher.

Can I be happy even if the birds don’t come back? > Yes
Did I do something bad that caused the birds to go away? > No
How about if I put new nyjer seed in the feeder and see what happens? > Yes
Do I really want to tie myself in knots whenever something goes wrong? > No
Can I control what other beings do? > No
Can I let go of all this angst? > Yes

Good.  Now go to bed and sleep like a baby.

Just Skimming The Surface

I went walking on another golf course on Monday – Mount Elgin Golfers Club.  The owners of Tarandowah have bought it so I get to wander in two places.  Unlike Tarandowah, Mount Elgin has many trees, with a nice mix of coniferous and deciduous.  Plus about six ponds.  Tarandowah has none.

What especially enthralled me were the birds.  Canada geese were wherever water was, and they also enjoyed sauntering down the fairways.  They honked whenever I got close but didn’t take off.  Hopefully they sensed that I was a benign human being, and had no interest in scaring them.  They received a wide berth.

What I love about Canada geese is that they’re almost always in pairs.  I think we’re meant to have a partner in life.  I wonder what those couples talk about.  Probably the same stuff we do.

I walked the front nine and then came into the clubhouse for a beer.  Lindsay is one of the staff members and she asked me if I had seen any babies.  Sadly, no.  But I was on the lookout when I returned to the green grass.  And on hole 14 or so, under a weeping willow, there was the family, including four little fuzzballs. The parents were staring me down but I just wanted to see the waddling from afar.  So cute.  Lindsay smiled later when I told her.

Although I enjoyed the presence of the gooselets, another species was the star of the show for me.  Swallows, with tinges of blue on their wings.  There must have been fifty of them on the various ponds, and oh, can they fly!  They’d zoom about six inches above the water, making wild turns.  Occasionally, their beaks would gobble up an insectal morsel as the bod motored on at supersonic speed.  I just stared at the grace and athleticism.

I tried following the flight of one bird but that was a challenge,  what with so many streaking over the pond.  And I was left with the question:  “Do they ever land?”  Not that I could see.  What anaerobic fitness!  What air speed records!  What a rush for this fairly stationary human being.

It could be said that I come for the flying, not the golfing.  I’m glad the feathered ones are in my life.

Day Five: Wrong, Strong And Speedy

I woke up bleary-eyed this morning and recalled a horrible story I’d heard a few days ago.  A man was found dead in his Cuba hotel room, cause unknown.  His sister flew down from Canada, and was taking a light plane to her final destination when it crashed, killing everyone onboard.  So sad.  I had thought yesterday I’d write about this tragedy but then I became enthralled with a triangle.  Now we’re one more day removed from the accident and I don’t want to break my rule about having my writing stay in the present.

All these muddled thoughts came out of me as I rolled in bed.  I imagined writing the story.  But I couldn’t remember it.  Confused, I realized that I couldn’t even remember the death and plane crash happening.  I tried to bring forth my cognitive capacities in the shower … but nothing came.  My brain made it up!  Nobody died.

What a fascinating organ of the body.  Tricking me like that.  Creating a dream that felt so real.  I’m going to have a good talk with this brain of mine.


After lunch yesterday, I looked at myself and saw that some energy had returned.  Maybe I could strength train.  It had been a week since I’d lifted weights.  So off I went to the gym in the village beside my hotel.  A hot walk.  But such ecstasy when I opened the door to a flood of air conditioning.  I sat a bit and let it flow over me.  Guess I’m just not a tropical flower.

Since food was a very recent memory, I decided to do yoga first.  What a marvel to stretch slow and easy, sometimes feeling my vertebrae settle in.  My left hip has been tight for as long as I can remember and my work with it felt just right.  What sacrilege that I ignored stretching until well into my thirties.  (And strength training until well into my sixties!)  Now I was lying on my back with my arms out to the sides.  My head goes left and my legs right.  Oh sweet twisting motion.  A transcendent human being would no doubt just be revelling in the present, but I have to admit I was thinking golf swing.

Now for the machines and free weights.  I’ve memorized the terms so I can sound authoritative: leg press, leg extension, torso twist (golf again!), tricep extension, bicep curl, pectoral, omni raise and hammer curl.  What a hunk of muscle I am.

I had to figure out the subtleties of the machines since there were differences from home.  Let’s see … one kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.  It was all a part of the process and I enjoyed being “on the mat”, a martial arts phrase praising the virtues of simple participation in the act, with no performance thoughts intruding (except for sometimes).

[Interlude:  It is so hot today with virtually no breeze.  I’m exercising my digits in the shade, fortified with coffee, but I’m sinking slowly in the west.  I thought part of my title was “Strong”.  Oh well, Bruce.  Keep going.]

Aided by my superstar headband, I was giving ‘er.  Not quite the weights I was using at home but close.  On some machines, the last few reps were tough but I turned on the fierceness to get the job done.  Waydago, guy!  Air conditioned sweat was pouring off me and I knew I was pretty much the king of the world.

Today, the heat-filled weakness has returned but my path is clear.  I want to be strong for the present and the future: climbing stairs, walking eighteen holes, making love.


Two hours before sunset, I was on the beach, without my Speedo.  No, I’m not talking nudity here.  Just happy to be in the shade wearing t-shirt and shorts.  Small thoughts percolated in my head.  “You’re here for a beach vacation, Bruce.  Get tanning.”  “Real men are brown.”  “Dance down the shoreline.”  In the here and now of yesterday, I said no to them all.

I was under a thatched roof that had to stretch a hundred yards, affording a clear view of the water and wildlife.  Animals fitted out in skimpy bikinis drew my immediate attention.  Some local species, no doubt.  But soon my gaze lifted to the gulls flying by.  Heading to the right, my elevated friends were bucking a hurricanal headwind.  They were staying close to my structure to cut the breeze some.  I wondered at the wings and muscles working furiously.  The birds had their own gym, with no membership fees.

The coolest, though, was right to left.  Gulls blasted by at warp speed, their wings folded back.  Oh my goodness … one of the wonders of the world.  They took turns doing a sprint in front of me and I was the better for it.  I celebrated the joy of the world.

Right now I’m withering in the shade.  But the fronds of the palm trees across the garden from my writing spot have just started to stir.  Yesterday the dance was rich and full, arms waving in a glorious flow.  If that’s not to be today, maybe I’ll retreat to my air-conditioned room after I upload this blog post in the lobby.  Hey … sometimes retreat is just what the doctor ordered.