I have a cottage on the Moira River. It is perfect for me. The river is long, but not very wide and great for exploring in my kayak. The Moira supports an abundance of life; fish, frogs, birds, water snakes, beaver and me.
When I go to the river I shed the cares and chaos of the city and am immediately calmed. I can hear the wind in the trees. I hear the squawk of the blue jays and I can hear my own random thoughts.
In the evening the water becomes smooth as glass, reflecting the trees and grasses at the shore as well as the moon above. Skimming along on the water I can see the dart of a speckled fish scooting under the kayak.
The river is always reinventing itself. Every year it is different. One year the winter storms uprooted some trees, exposing their earth-packed roots to the sun, while their long branches swept across the water. Now the turtles used this new platform to sun themselves. This year the river has planted a little cluster of mauve iris on my water front. They may not be there next year but I remain hopeful.
As I write I sit on the porch watching the blue jays come for the peanuts I’ve placed along the railing for them. They are so beautiful. The young ones have a hard time trying to open the shells while the more experienced birds can pick up two at a time and fly off with their treasure. I never get to see how they open them.
Sometimes a blue jay will take a peanut and hide it under the leaves of the ground cover. I’ve never seen if they remember to retrieve it later. The mourning doves scour the ground beneath the feeder, too sedate to vie with the other birds for a perch. Other ground feeders today are a little brown wren and, of course, a chipmunk.
The kingfisher screeches across the river, scoops up a fish and sits on a branch to eat its breakfast. One summer a loon came to the river. It stayed for twenty-four hours in front of the cottage and then disappeared. I was happy for the visit.
This summer the grackles have taken over the feeder. They are so aggressive and loud that it can sound like a battlefield outside the cottage. The blue jays compete with them to see who can be loudest. The red breasted grosbeak, Downey woodpecker and nuthatch all patiently wait their turn. Even the goldfinch come.
But I miss the chickadees. They have not come to the feeder since the grackles are there. The chickadees always have been my faithful friends since I got the cottage. Usually there are six or seven flitting about, singing their distinctive song. Because I miss them I have taken down the regular feeder and put up one for small birds only. There are no grackles now. I am still waiting for the chickadees.
One day two palliated woodpeckers came. They were so large, so colourful I thought I had been transported to the tropics. Across the river a heron stands stock still. It would be easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look. In the evening it flies down the river towards home, croaking like an animal twice its size.
The river has given me so many gifts. It is my respite from the world. Its complexity and richness reinforce for me that there is an integrity in the natural world, if not in the one created by humankind. At the river I can find that integrity reflected in myself. I am grounded in a way I find hard to maintain in the city.
Some gifts are even more tangible. I have a collection of feathers left for me by my avian friends. They are the beautiful reminders of my gratitude and wonder.
Heather Conrad spent 40 years as a nurse, collecting thousands of stories from the people she has met. Now she’s using her retirement to hone her writing skills. She feels there is a book about community nursing somewhere in her wanting to get out. Her experience with Brian Henry’s classes is one of the first steps taken to fulfill this ambition. Heather lives in Toronto.
Photos of the Moira River by Heather.
See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Niagara on the Lake, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.
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