Nature as promptEver thought about using nature as a memoir prompt? Our life stories connect with nature on many levels. We remember storms and freezing days and thunder that seemed to bore right into our souls. I wrote this memoir in 2020, on a cold February weekend.
Great Backyard Bird Count of 2020
Pieces of ice fall out of the sky. It’s so cold in Edmonton, Alberta that it can’t even snow properly. I’m doing the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual count in February that helps scientists track the changes in bird populations over time. Today, I’m standing on my downtown balcony in -38 C degree weather, looking for birds. But only snow is flying.
Usually, my 1,500 square foot balcony has birds visiting it all day. The magpies with their wings so dark and glossy they look green, hop about on our concrete planters. Little chickadees with their black caps peck at the dried and frozen plants frowning out of the solid soil. Pigeons strut and coo on the ground, taking a break from being in flight and being chased away by the magpies or crows that fight for the seeds scattered by a neighbour in a building a few metres away.
Two times this year I’ve tried to save pigeons. At separate times, they both smacked into windows high above me and fell onto my patio. I heard the thwack and then the thump.
The first one died when I picked it up to take it to WILDNorth, the wildlife rehabilitation and rescue centre in Edmonton. The other bird I put in a cardboard box and started driving to the centre. I was new to Edmonton and didn’t know where I was going. The map on my phone told me to turn right – right when a long prairie train was crossing. The train took 20 minutes to rattle past me and the pigeon. In the middle of our emergency, the pigeon’s wings started hitting the box. While train cars shook my vehicle, the pigeon rustled behind me.
Then silence. Stillness.
The end for both bird and machine.
I cried. I cried because I couldn’t save the bird. I couldn’t save the bird because of that stupid train, which kept rolling, rolling, rolling by. I cried because the life in the small body was gone.
That’s why I’m outside, counting the birds. If I see a pigeon, I’ll count it. I’ll make sure it counts.
It has been 15 minutes since I’ve been in the freezing cold. My legs are burning and my cheeks are red like a robin’s breast. I haven’t seen one bird. Not one.
Only the snow is flying.