The call of a blue jay never fails to transport her to that moment in time, instantly, to a moment so many years past that she’d actually lost count. Time isn’t a line anyway, memory just snaps you back in time.
Suffice it say, autumn, giving way to winter. Bobcaygeon, Ontario. A small “hobby” farm maybe 15 minutes from town, let’s say 10 acres, though it might have been 25 or more, the size as unimportant as the fact that the only thing even remotely farm-like about it was the little riding tractor that Doctor Ed used to cut the grass and occasionally haul a couple of pieces of lumber or firewood around the property. He’d made a shit-ton of money on some patent or other, and held onto his millions by buying stuff on sale. His workshop overflowed with little cellophane packages of screws, hooks, nuts, washers, you name, it, from Canadian Tire and Home Hardware, hundreds of them, all half price.
The “farm” was on the lake, the lake that froze solid in the winter, breaking up in March and April with heart-stopping booming as the huge chunks of ice slid against each other in the water.
Birds: Her first experience with bird feeders. Put out some seed and wait. You don’t have to wait long before an astonishing variety of birds shows up, some of them for just one day on their way north or south, as the case may be, but most of them there for the long haul, the dead cold of northerly southern Ontario, meaning it’s not like Toronto or Sarnia, but it’s not like Timmins either. It’s brutally cold sometimes and yet there they all are, grateful for the free food, especially in the real dead of winter, those cold cold February mornings when the suet ball would be covered in chickadees. So many birds, not just the jays and the chickadees, but cardinals, redpolls, nuthatches, woodpeckers—pileated and downy—and of course, the starlings and grackles, the partridges and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the white-throated sparrows that sang O Canada in the spring, the finches, and so many others she can no longer remember them all.
Her first experience with so many things:
How to make a fire in a fireplace, carefully constructing a cage of kindling over balled-up newspaper, remembering to open the flue, learning the hard way why this is important.
How to drive a skidoo.
How to cling to a man who clearly almost immediately regretted inviting her to share his journey.
How to drive an ancient Jeep with a blade attached to the front of it, and how to plow the miles of road traversing the farm, most of which nobody ever used but needed to be cleared anyway.
How to cry.
How to chop wood. Fix a toilet. Catch a red squirrel in a live trap and ferry it over to the opposite shore, after it spent the winter tormenting us with its nightly ninja raids on the kitchen, disappearing every morning with a flash of red tail into the wall above the stove, where it would leave, always, its signature little puddle of pee right between the burners.
How to smoke pot, drop mesc, drop acid. To hammer a nail. Use an electric drill. Drive a pickup truck and use the mirrors to back up, learning the hard way how to do this without running into the middle post of the garage, damaging the post (who knew?) and shearing off the driver’s side mirror.
How to cry.
How to take apart a truck engine. How to feed crayfish and clean out their tank. How to slide invisibly in and out of a room. How to cook lentils. How to be bored. How to cross-country ski.
How to sew a quilt.
How to cry.
How to make suet balls for that huge variety of birds, identifying them with the help of Birds of North America and her friend Corinne.
The call of the jay on a winter morning transports her, time flowing around her ankles like an icy stream in spring.
Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash