Tuesday night I drive from my parents through the winding, rural roads. Back home. And it seems like every bird that ever flew an Ontario sky is heading out during that drive. It was coming on eight o'clock and the sun was beginning to set. Made me weep openly to see them all. He was asleep in the car seat in back. Just turned four months old last Sunday. The drive makes me recall the night my twin sister drove us home from the hospital after the week that seemed like a year in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Home. Migration always makes me wonder: are they going home or leaving home? I like to think that the birds I'm watching take flight are leaving home. That this part of Southwestern Ontario is where they call Home. I take comfort in the knowledge that they'll come back.
I love the way Canadian Geese line up in their own personal arrow formations, their wings in wondrous, dark contrast to the pink that kisses the few, scattered clouds. It makes me turn off the iPod in my Subaru and roll down the window to hear them. Among my favourite sounds. And one of my cherished sights is the way starlings all swoop together as they leave. A group ahead of me takes the shape of a fish and floats over the cornfields that dip off to my right. All in perfect unison. Like synchronized swimmers. Diving and surfacing together. How do they do that? Kind of mesmerizing. Bad for driving.
When I was pregnant with him, I caught this astounding documentary at the Princess Cinema in Waterloo called Winged Migration. It was right around the time I'd begun to feel my own first flutterings of him and pretty breathtaking to witness. Birds seem to have some tie to my little man. Starting with that robin's nest above the side door of my farmhouse to the little mobile of three woolen owls who hover over his crib, representing the spirits of the siblings he might have had, the babies I miscarried in 1998, 2003 and last September, his own fraternal twin. They watch over him. It was an owl's "who-hoo-hoo-hooooo-hooooo" which greeted me my very first night in this farmhouse, just outside my bedroom window. In Celtic mythology, birds are considered messengers. It's very important to listen to what they're trying to tell you. Like that bird who guides the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe through the forest to the safety of Mr. Tumnus' home.
The pines behind my home stretch up into the darkening sky and I bring him out onto the back deck. The constant, clamouring chatter of starlings surrounds us. I smile down at him in his seat and his hair captures a glint of sunset as my clap shocks the starlings into flight, halting their song; they simultaneously take wing together, dipping and darting across the back field, leaving my home. And theirs.
This month, I am heavy in preparation for selling this farmhouse. We stayed at my parents the past week so the rooms could be painted with soft, muted colours. Names like Earth Smoke, Smoked Trout, Soft Earth, Manitou, Tent, Tofino. We will be leaving this place. His first real home, and mine. I bite my lip. I've no idea if she will even sell before the snow flies. If not, I'll batten down the hatches and hibernate one more winter here and hope to move come spring. I've been here nine years and maybe it's time now. I admit the care of these 1.3 acres on my own for almost three years has been a bit of a challenge and will only prove moreso as he grows and demands more and more of my time and attention (though he gets pretty much all of it already). He needs, I think, a town versus this remote spot. I hate leaving here. It's one of a number of things breaking my heart right now. But I know a move will be better for him. I hope it will be better for me. Either way, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. What's that saying? A rich child sits in a poor mother's lap. Realistically, I know we will both benefit from moving to an actual neighbourhood. With a shorter driveway. Better resources. With other children. Other families. Other parents. Other single parents, perhaps! I look forward to the idea of bicycling or walking to work. The main country road into town can get a bit dicey come the winter time. Life has brought so many changes since deciding to leave my common-law marriage almost three years ago now. And change is good, I remind myself. He is here with me now. It's a good time for this particular change to come...
But I will miss all these birds taking wing across the farmfields. The robins nesting in my doorway and blue spruce. The killdeer in my driveway. The starlings. Barn swallows. The blue herons flying with their long legs outstretched behind them over the back creek. Their nests on the third line way, high up in the trees. The hummingbirds at my front window and backgarden. That hawk my eyes always seek in one, special tree during my morning and evening commute each winter. The Canadian geese who land each Spring when the back field floods. One year, a few years back, a lone, white swan joined them there. When I was a little girl, I would read and re-read E.B. White's Trumpeter Swan. These days, I am re-savouring his (and Strunk's) The Elements of Style while attempting query letters to various editors of magazines. Another book on birds comes to mind: Too Many Blackbirds by my old American Lit professor, Dr. Ken Ledbetter. He died much too young back in 1993. A favourite memory is of his class the morning he informed everyone how to properly address a ghost upon encountering one. You must first ask politely, "Are you a good ghost or a bad ghost?" This proved helpful advice here in this farmhouse built in 1848. It is not without its own many and varied spirits.
I know the very cherished memories I will hold, from the cedar hedges to the smell of the woodstove, the sight of a 160-year old apple tree in blossom, the witnessing of the Aurora Borealis while standing in my front yard to the shooting stars of the Perseids each August seated on a Muskoka Chair out back: such rich and vibrant images will stay with me all my days once I leave here. That will be some good haunting.
I am writing this in the middle of the night. It's 3:30 a.m.. Stolen moments. Rising from my bed where I've just fed him, his arms are outstretched as though he is flying through his own dreams. I think about migration and about what makes a home. My own parents leaving their home in Ireland and emigrating to Canada. Myself making a new home with him somewhere else. Waterloo-Wellington County has been my home for so damn long, a large part of me wishes we were starting over somewhere farther away. Nunavut. Nova Scotia. New Zealand. There's a whole planet out there yet to discover together. But I know that this is home for me. The mennonite farms. All the local farm markets, small town and music festivals. And my own little sonshine. Whereever he is will define home for me.
For now, I watch the birds rise up to guide my way towards another beginning somewhere new and familiar at the same time. What comes to mind is my eldest sister's beautiful vinyl recording by Judy Collins of that old Sandy Denny song, Who Knows Where the Time Goes? It was composed the year I was born when she was only twenty. Wow. Forty-two years have come and gone. And these last nine years have flown themselves. The last four months especially. Did she ever get those lyrics right! They make me smile and tear up at the same time. But then, the Autumn, as it approaches this coming week, always makes me do that. It's my favourite time of year. And I cling to one, specific lyric that strengthens the journey I'm making and my own resolve: I have no fear of time.
Across the purple sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it's time for them to go
But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?
And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it's time to go
So come you storms of winter and then the birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?
Music: Who Knows Where the Time Goes, Sandy Denny