To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is a re-post of the popular 2017 George and Mabel: A Love Story
They say that crows usually mate for life. George and Mabel have certainly stuck together through good, and some very bad, times — so, in honour of Valentine’s Day, here is their story.
I wrote about some of their trials and tribulations about a year ago in the blog post George’s Tough Year. This is the next instalment of their story.
In spite of babies lost to illness and a seemingly catastrophic injury, George has kept on keeping on and, with the help of his mate, Mabel, seems to be thriving.
We never did figure out what exactly caused George’s beak to break. Theories have included: crash landing; attack from other birds; and a run in with a rat trap. I don’t think George is going to tell me any time soon. In any case, I hardly think he notices his half-beak any more.
He’s developed his own method of scooping up food, turning his head upside down for a more efficient “shovelling” action.
You would think that other crows would take advantage of George’s disability, but he and Mabel, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. While George comes down to pick up their breakfast, Mabel stands guard on a higher roof and warns of incoming interlopers.
Mabel on Guard
George’s great advantage over other crows is that he’s not afraid of me at all. If I’m present, the other crows are too afraid to come and eat, while George regards me as his personal catering manager. If I forget one of his “snacks” he will perch right by my studio and stare meaningfully at me through the window until I get the message.
In 2015 they had a baby but s/he was terribly afflicted by avian pox and died as soon as the cold weather came. Last summer I watched carefully to see what would happen. They had two babies. One didn’t make it, but the second is hanging in there. Boy/Girl George, as I like to call him/her has a small foot deformity, but has survived a bitterly cold winter, so fingers crossed.
George and Mabel are working incessantly to make sure their offspring thrives. After George has collected the food I put out (and he can cram an amazing amount into his gullet and beak) he flies off to share the bounty with Mabel and the baby. I think George is trying to show Junior the food collecting ropes, but s/he remains skittish about coming too close for now.
Mom and Baby
So this Valentine’s Day, we can celebrate the many kinds of love. From the giddy excitement of first infatuation, to the less dramatic but lifelong kind that George and Mabel enjoy.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Some of these pictures may look familiar. This may be because you read my blog post when it came out in 2017, or it could be because some of these photographs were taken without permission and used in a fabricated crow love story that went wildly viral across the internet. The story here is the true story of George and Mabel, and these (as with all of the images in my blog posts) are my photographs.
Sadly, George passed away the summer after I wrote this story. He is buried in my garden. See: In Memory of George
George and Mabel’s offspring did survive and Mabel is still thriving. She eventually found a new mate and in the spring of 2019 they had three babies, two of which survived and are still hanging around with mom and dad. See More on Mabel
One of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting beside my mother where she’d tripped and fallen on the sidewalk while rushing for the bus to go shopping. “More haste, less speed,” she said, through gritted teeth. She had a pithy saying for every occasion, my mum, and most them were/are very true. We never did go shopping that day, or for many days thereafter, as she’d sprained her ankle quite badly.
I had great plans for this festive season. Finish up the local sales events early, leaving lots of time to update my online shop, go for long walks and catch up on the local crows and maybe even get some snowshoeing (ravens!) in before Christmas. Leisurely holiday shopping in the local shops, baking, …
Well, you can see how I was asking for trouble.
Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, here I am this festive season.
It seems to be a family tradition now, the pre-Christmas disaster. The worst was Phillip’s concussion from a bicycle accident a few years back. The most hilarious (although only in retrospect) was 2016 when Lily’s dog got sprayed by a skunk at 11pm on Christmas Eve.
The sore foot I noticed the week before the studio sale turned out to be a stress fracture. What with one thing and another, it took quite a while for the x-ray results and to get fitted for the stylish new boot, with a few days when I really could hardly get about at all. I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself.
But, another one of my mother’s favourite sayings was “worse things are happening at sea,” and this seems to fit well into that category. We do have the Christmas tree up, and as long as I can hobble as far as the garden, or even the deck, I have some spectacular company.
It was a bit wet this morning, but Marvin and Mavis were, as always, on hand to say hello.
I think Mavis holds me partially responsible for the change in weather.
In the garden on the weekend, there was a positive Who’s Who of bird visitors coming by to cheer me up.
The most handsome Spotted Towhee
Towhees are new to the garden this year. Always a thrill to see that oh-so-stylish and dotty colour combination.
The world’s most winsome White Crowned Sparrow.
Sweetest Song Sparrow.
Cheery Chestnut-Backed Chickadee
I’m noticing that some of the juncos I’m seeing lately have more chestnut on their hoods than I remember in the past. I always thought they were more uniformly grey or black, so I wonder if there is some sort of avian gene pooling going on there.
For years we’ve had one single Anna’s Hummingbird visit the garden all year round. Recently she has found a friend with whom to squabble about the hummingbird feeder.
I’d never seen a nuthatch until this one started frequenting the garden a couple of months ago. I can always tell when he’s around by the honking sound. At first I thought it was someone’s car alarm going off!
Rosy House Finch
A couple of weeks ago I noticed a couple of house finches with eye problems in the garden. Internet research revealed that there is a very contagious eye disease that spreads among finches, and advice was to bring the bird feeders in for a week or so, meanwhile cleaning them thoroughly with a bleach solution (rinsing well.) I just put the feeders out again a couple of days ago and the birds are celebrating, but I’m keeping a close watch on the finches — and planning on cleaning the feeders every week from now on.
In spite of local squabbles, crows will come together for a crisis. Instantly.
Border skirmishes, crow etiquette lapses, hereditary rivalries — all forgotten in a corvid heartbeat when the alarm call goes out.
Peregrine falcon in the ‘hood!
People sometimes consider crows’ mobbing behaviour towards larger birds as somehow mean. The collective noun, a “murder” of crows, is referenced, darkly.
To me, it’s one of their more admirable features — having the sense to know that they’re stronger together, and the ability to put aside individual differences in the face of a common danger.
Raccoons, coyotes, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and even their own cousin, the raven, are considered enemies by crows. All of these creatures will snatch and eat juvenile crows and/or crow eggs, thus earning themselves a permanent spot on the crows’ “naughty” list.
It’s not that they’re really naughty, of course — just doing what nature dictates — going out grocery shopping for the family. The same applies to crows when they feed on smaller birds, and on through the spiralling circle of life.
While nesting season is over now, and most juvenile crows are now smart and fast enough to stay out of the way of the falcon (who is more likely on the lookout for a tasty pigeon) the crow response to a “sometimes-crow-predator” in the neighbourhood is automatic.
Every crow drops what they’re doing and flies off to join the collective effort to repel the enemy. Their job is to convince the “threat” that crows are just way too much bother and get them to move along and become someone else’s problem.
Individual crows will swoop very close to the offending predator. Sometimes too close for their health. Generally, however, the bird of prey will make a pragmatic cost/benefit calculation as to whether it’s worth the caloric output to chase a provocative crow. Most often they decide to wait out the mob for a while and eventually move on to a quieter spot.
All in all, I think “collective” is a much better, and more descriptive, word for a group of crows than a “murder.”
Apart from group defence, another advantage of crow mobbing behaviour is that, if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.
For other posts about crow-revealed nature sighting:
Well, I’m not sure if they did it by guile, by force, or by consulting the Office of the Housing Ombirdsman, but somehow the Northern Flickers have regained occupancy of their nest.
As you may recall, it wasn’t looking good for them in the last post, Battle of the Nest. The Starlings had moved right in and were even installing their own furniture. And yet, when I went by the next day, this familiar head was defiantly sticking out of the nest.
I check every time I go by and almost every time there is a Northern Flicker sentry at the door. Mom or dad are on duty 24/7 to ward off future home invasions.
Oops, looked unguarded for a minute there, but a closer look reveals mother Flicker on the upper deck keeping an eye on things.
Still some last minute renovations going on too.
Meanwhile, what of the starlings?
I must admit I was rooting for the Northern Flickers, given that they were in the nest first and had done all the hard work of digging it out. Fair play and all, right?
It can be hard to sympathize with the starlings, and yet . . .
It’s really not the Starlings’ fault that a well meaning, homesick, but misguided English immigrant (human) released a bunch of them in Central Park, NY in 1890. His goal was to eventually introduce every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America, but the starling was his great “success.” A great example of “be careful what you wish for.”
Neither is it their fault that they’re tough and adaptable birds so that now there are many millions of them in North America, competing with native birds for habitat, food and nest sites.
While they look like drab birds from far away, when the light strikes their feathers, they are anything but dull.
If you still really think you can’t appreciate starlings (and remember, a lot of people felt that way about crows until quite recently . . . ) I really recommend reading Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
So . . . what happened to the Starling invaders of the Flicker nest? Well, it seems they just moved one tree over and took over the tree cavity that was used by Flickers for the 2017 nesting season (recorded in Flicker Family Saga Part One and Part Two. ) It’s been vacant since then, so they moved in without any drama and everyone seems to be getting along for the time being.
Just to be on the safe side, the male Flicker makes regular and emphatic pronouncements regarding property and tenancy rights.
As I look forward to watching the currently taping first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, I’m also addicted to following the real life epic drama going on right outside my window … Game … Of … Nests!
It’s a tense, political and, at times, violent tale.
Marvin and Mavis have been plotting since February to expand their territory from the north half of the Kaslo poplars to encompass the whole darn row.
Historically, Eric and Clara ruled the southern end of the stand, nesting there for the past few years. Marvin and Mavis, it seems, are an ambitious couple nursing expansionist dreams. They spent weeks harassing the other pair and “encouraging” them to move to the street trees further down Kaslo Street.
February skirmish with Eric and Clara
By early March I noticed that Marvin and Mavis seemed to have won. Eric and Clara ceded their hold on the poplars and began to consolidate their grip on the block to the south.
All seemed to be going well for the new King and Queen of the Poplars.
Twig gathering was in full progress by March.
Marvin looking for some sturdy twigs in our snowbell tree in March.
By early April, Mavis was looking to brighten up the place with some blossom twigs.
But Marvin and Mavis had made a terrible strategic error. Spending so much time fighting for control of the south end of the trees, they’d neglected their northern front.
The firehall crows took advantage and started to build a nest in the northernmost tree in the stand.
Incensed, Marvin and Mavis rushed to the defence of their neglected territory and days of fierce battle ensued.
Marvin and Mavis spent so much time chasing the interlopers that I was worried they’d forgotten about their own new nest at the south end of the block.
On several occasions I saw them visit their ill-fated nest from last year — just a couple of trees over from the new nest being built by the Firehall newcomers.
It’s almost as if they were mulling over what went wrong last year (their only fledgling fell out of the nest and didn’t survive) and were taking a few moments to pay their respects.
At last they seemed to decide to leave the past behind and let the northern invaders keep their nest, turning their attention back to the new nest.
Here is a terribly wobbly video, taken from far away of Mavis and Marvin working together on the nest. Warning: do not watch if prone to motion sickness.
While things have quietened down a bit in the Game of Nests, there are still periodic outbreaks of hostility. This morning another crow got too close to the nest and Marvin and Mavis gave furious chase.
The Land of the Tall Poplars, like Westeros, is filled with danger on all sides. No sign of dragons so far — but there is an eagle’s nest visible from my house. That means there will soon by hungry baby eagles. Mom and Pop eagle are already cruising the poplars keeping an eye on where food will be be available later in the season.
The poplars are also home to lots of four-legged crow enemies. This raccoon looks pretty adorable snoozing in the hammock of some high branches … but come nesting time there’s nothing they like better to snack on than crow eggs. In fact, that’s the fate that met Marvin and Mavis’s brood the spring before last.
I find I have to “watch” many parts of Game of Thrones from behind a cushion, asking when the terrible thing is over.
Yet, as full of drama and heartbreak as the HBO series is, it’s nothing compared to the real life struggle for survival going on right outside.
All we can do is root for my favourite characters to make it unscathed through the season/series. Now where’s that cushion …?
It seems to have been an especially long wait this year. This, for example, was my studio yesterday morning.
In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet these past few weeks it’s not, unfortunately, because I’m on a tropical beach somewhere. For most 2019 thus far you could find me in my living room, wrapped in a quilt and reading a large pile of books or watching Netflix. Not that you would want to find me — a Gollum-like coughing, sneezing and whinging creature.
If you read my New Year’s Eve blog, you know that cold/cough number one came as a Christmas gift and lingered over New Year and into early January.
For a couple of weeks later in January, things were looking up.
It was faux spring (better known as Fool’s Spring.) Flowers were blooming in the garden and I felt much better. “Ha, this winter’s going to be a doddle,” I may have thought to myself in a moment of jaunty optimism.
This is why it’s called Fool’s Spring.
The February snow arrived in drifts, burying any upstart flowers.
Along with the snow came the second, even worse, version of the dreaded lurgy. With maximum inconvenience, it struck the evening before my Valentine’s Day studio sale. My husband was even sicker than me, so it fell to my lovely and competent kids to run the show.
For part of February I was too sick to do anything at all. Since lying down made me cough more, I spent hours watching the BBC’s gardening guru, Monty Don, helping people to transform their rubble-filled backyards into replicas of the gardens at Versailles. We also toured the gardens of Italy together, which was very nice.
In between Netflix, I read a lot of books, mostly novels.
When the Christmas book bonanza ran out, I started downloading the Inspector Gamache mysteries to my iPad. They’re set in rural Quebec and I’ve been enjoying them, but after binge reading four in a row, it might be time for a change.
A bonus to being sick was that Edgar, at 9 years old, has finally condescended to sit on my lap. He’s been lap-phobic since we’ve had him, but suddenly this winter, perhaps because I was generally covered in a camouflaging quilt and immobile for days on end, he decided to throw caution to the wind. We both love this new arrangement.
I’ve mostly stopped coughing now, but I have the speaking voice of a chipmunk and about 40% of my usual energy.
On most days recently I’ve been able to get out for short walks with the dog. They’re slow walks but I’m at least able to see glimpses of the real world and keep up with the latest in the crow-munity.
Still winter woolly weather out there.
From the weather forecast, and from signs I’ve seen on my walks, it seems as if spring (or at least a second Fool’s Spring) is just around the corner. I’m hoping that it will bring with it some more energy for me, and a few touches of colour in the landscape.
Sometimes the best way to tear yourself away from binge-watching the TV is to drag yourself outside and tune in to the always entertaining Crow Channel.
I’d planned an archival Ken Burns-style documentary for this blog post, going over everything that’s happened with the local crows since I last did an update last fall.
After sorting through months of photographs I was still trying to wrap my mind around a way to fit everything into a post that would be slightly shorter than War and Peace.
A lot happens with crows in a few months!
This morning, while walking the dog. I had a epiphany. (This often happens, don’t you find?)
I decided to write the blog just about the hot-from-the-press crow news as gathered on the current morning walk — coming to you live (-ish) & local from East Vancouver.
No sign of Marvin and Mavis first thing, so Geordie and I headed out and put their Sunday morning breakfast (scrambled eggs) in the fridge for later.
The first star appearance in today’s crow drama is Mabel — of George and Mabel fame, and cover model for the 2018 crow calendar.
She and her new mate “own” the western end of our street. I’m sure it’s Mabel, partly because she knows me so well, and partly because of her bad eye. From one side she looks like any other crow.
But from the other, I can see that the eye that was starting to deteriorate when George was alive has gotten worse. I’m not sure if she can see out of it at all now, but somehow it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She rules her territory like a corvid Boudicca, faulty eye or not. All crows are action heroes.
Time for a short crow calligraphy break in the programming as we spot one of the several Garibaldi School crows, creating an interesting silhouette agains some wavy branches.
Back to some supporting actors in the ongoing crowp opera. There are quite a few characters on Napier Street that I haven’t named yet, although they seem to know me (and Geordie) very well. The white blur in the photo below is Geordie walking between me and the crow. Dog and crow seem to take each other’s presence for granted.
Another un-named, very confident, Napier Street crow …
It’s always a bit tricky when you get to the corner of a block, or wherever the boundary between crow fiefdoms lies. Here we’re on the border of Pants Family terrain, but the Napier crow on the stop sign seems inclined to make a bold incursion this morning.
Napier Street crow on the edge of his territory
Mr. Pants is not amused at the audacity. We might have had to include a “Warning: Crow Violence” sticker on this program, but I traced my steps back a bit so I could distract the Napier crows with a few peanuts before having a short visit with the Pants Family.
Since the great moulting season of 2018 — see Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips — Mr. Pants has been lacking the feathered trousers that earned him his name. Now that it’s getting a bit colder, he does seem to be getting a bit fluffier around the nether regions, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever be quite so pantaloon-encumbered as he once was.
He probably enjoys the more streamlined life.
The Pants power couple.
Mr. Pants, dashing with or without trousers.
Brief pause for a commercial break …
And now, back to scheduled programming …
On to William Street next to check in on the White Wing plot line. I know this is Ms. Wing by the way she greets me, even though I can’t see her distinctive wonky feather from this angle.
There we go …
A brisk wind catches her protruding feather this morning. It looks kind of awkward, but she seems to manage very well. In fact, of all the local crows, she was the most successful mom this year, successfully raising three fledglings to independence.
Another break for a spot of crow calligraphy.
The commotion in a tree near William and Kaslo made me think a crow or eagle must be involved, but it seemed to be an all-crow kerfuffle. The one on the far right had something in his beak and it seems that the others felt it was not rightfully his.
They chased him out of the tree, back to the tree and dive bombed repeatedly, but he stubbornly held on to whatever prize he’d managed to score.
On the home stretch we run into two of our old favourites, Eric and Clara.
They’re Marvin and Mavis’s closest neighbours and there’s been a bit of rivalry between them lately. When I stop to greet Eric and Clara, I immediately see and hear Marvin on a power line, making grumpy territorial calls.
Eric and Clara
As soon as I get a few steps closer to home, Marvin comes down to claim my full attention. Time for breakfast.
But no … there’s a final twist to the plot (isn’t there always?)
Mavis is watching something else from another hydro wire and she seems perturbed.
Raven!!!! Furious cawing and they take off to escort the intruder out of their territory.
It takes Marvin a few minutes to calm down after that little burst of crow-drenelin.
I thinks he’s earned a good breakfast, so the scrambled eggs are brought out again.
Marvin graciously lets Mavis have the first serving. Since she developed a spot of avian pox on her right foot late last year, I notice she’s a lot pushier about getting the food and Marvin seems to know she needs as much nutrition as she can get. You can see the small lesion on her back foot in the photo below. It doesn’t seem to be growing, so I’m hoping she’s got enough of an immune system to hold it at bay.
‘Scuse my table manners.
Marvin the patient.
And so today’s Crowflix programming comes to an end … and we didn’t even cover the Slocan Street Trio. Perhaps they’ll need their own episode. Remember, there’s probably a live crow show on offer in your neighbourhood too. You just have to step away from the TV and out the door.
Crows are often the only obvious representative of the natural world that a busy urbanite might see in a day. Many more wild things live among us, of course — but crows are so “in your face” that they’re hard to overlook, no matter how distracted you are. Once they’ve caught your eye, you can’t help but start to notice the rest of the quieter members of the urban nature gang… sparrows, chickadees, coyotes, eagles, hawks, bushtits, raccoons, ravens, squirrels, flickers, hummingbirds … and the precious scraps of urban greenery in which they thrive.
2. Crow as Mirror
Crows have evolved through millennia along an entirely separate path from humans.
And yet, and yet … here we find ourselves, crows and people, living strangely parallel urban lives.
We all —crows and humans — have to deploy every bit of our creativity and hard work to get by in the urban jungle. We take comfort in our family groups, and we commute in tandem— the nightly river of roost-bound crows soaring raucously over their earthbound fellow travellers, the latter inching their way homeward though traffic.
While I love and admire crows, I don’t usually think of them as my “spirit animal” or anything particularly mystical.
And yet, sometimes, when I look at Mavis …
3. Crows Really Don’t Care What You Think
Crows have a rather enviable devil-may-care attitude.
Their gaze is firmly outward, with little or no thought wasted on what others think of them. They know that their crow-ness is sufficient.
I try to be more like them in that regard, … although I don’t think I don’t think I’m quite ready to start digging up my neighbours’ lawns just yet.
As I get older I wonder if I should start doing Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind sharp.
I haven’t yet, but I find that crow watching is a pretty good substitute. I see a crow doing something rather inexplicable. I wonder about it, read a book or an article about crows, I watch some more, and then — aha! — the puzzle pieces suddenly fit into place. Then I have to try and keep that bit of information stored in my brain as I add more clues to a growing picture. It’s like being a crow P.I.
Take, for instance, the mystery of the barking crow …
See my previous blog post A Puzzlement of Crows for just how much of my brain this sort of thing occupies at any one time.
Whitewing here has a perennially wonky wing feather which helps me pick her out from the crowd.
5. Crows For Kids
We worry that our kids spend too much time inside, screen-mesmerized (much like the rest of us) and rarely keen to get outside and get involved with nature. They’re able to identify far more corporate logos than birds or plants.
From experiences with my own children when they were younger, the most effective way to get them interested in doing something is to create a story around it.
My son was reluctant to come on walks until we found Dragon Alley. A street near our house is lined with massive trees, and the trunks are all covered in various kinds of thick moss. Once we “discovered” that this was were the local dragons came to rub off their old scales, walking was a delight.
I wish I’d started noticing crows when my children were little. The tales we could have spun! The characters we could have followed! They loved books with animals in them, but most of them were not indigenous to East Vancouver. They read about tigers and badgers and hedgehogs in brambly hedges, none of which they were ever likely to actually find on their own adventures. It would have been fun to introduce them to some real life local crow characters.
Well I guess it’s never too late as I do that now, even though the kids are now in their twenties …
6. Crow Therapy is Egalitarian
Just about anyone in a crow-populated city can take advantage of crow therapy. You don’t even need to get up close and personal — you can read their messages of beauty and nature from a distance in the calligraphy they write against the sky.
We simply need to stop for a moment to look up and try to interpret it.
In fact, crow therapy is SO egalitarian that it doesn’t even need to involve crows.
If it’s wondering what the starlings are up to today, or how the light will hit the leaves on your favourite tree this morning, or which dragons left scales in Dragon Alley overnight — whatever gives you a thrill of anticipation as your step outside — that’s Crow Therapy.
Since September, I’ve done a lot of writing. Probably more writing than I’ve done since my long ago thesis on Anglo-Saxon poetry.
I’ve been writing letters … so many letters … to Vancouver City Council and staff.
They’ve been rather boring letters, full of carefully researched references to building permits, footnotes and traffic management plans. Petition wording, schematic views and the endless argument for community consultation.
Google map view of Notre Dame School. and surrounding area. Green = proposed artificial turf stadium: Red = new parking lot
In summary, the issue is this: In 2004-5 Notre Dame School (located at the end of our street) revealed plans for a new campus, including a sports stadium and the removal of perimeter trees. Local residents were relatively happy about the new buildings, but very much opposed to the sports stadium and tree removal. We rallied to state our opposition and in 2006 a compromise was reached when the school agreed to build a grass practice field instead of the stadium, and to keep the trees. In 2008 they received a building permit for this. The buildings were finished a few years ago, but the sports field construction did not start. In September we found out, purely by accident, that, in January of this year, the school had submitted a request for a minor amendment to the 2008 building permit to the City of Vancouver. The amendment would allow a sunken, full-sized artificial turf games field with stadium seating, and necessitate the removal of the trees on the west side of the site. Neither the school nor the City informed the local community of this change. We have been writing letters asking that this change not be allowed as a minor amendment, but require a new building permit, which would then create the opportunity for community input. Two months in, and we haven’t received any meaningful response from the City, the school, or the Archdiocese which overlooks the school.
Most of my official stadium-related correspondence with City Hall has centred on classic topics like street safety, traffic, parking and noise. All valid and very real concerns for our neighbourhood.
But now I’m taking some time to write an open letter straight from the heart on an even bigger subject — the one that really keeps me awake at night.
Dear City of Vancouver,
Welcome new mayor and council members. You are a politically diverse group and I hope you’ll be creative and collaborative in your decision making, and will do the City of Vancouver proud over the next few years.
This morning I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with someone from the University of BC Forestry Department talking about a project called Citizen Cool Kits — an initiative encouraging neighbourhoods to come together and hatch ideas to lower their carbon footprint — all in a community-based effort to combat climate change. An important aspect of this is the maintenance and enhancement of the “urban forest”.
It’s a great idea, right? A positive approach to climate change challenges, very suited to a city that prides itself on being green and progressive.
But then I think about the school’s stadium plan, which the City seems poised to endorse. It could hardly be any more contrary to the idea of being collaborative, or climate and environment friendly.
What we have currently at Notre Dame School, from a neighbourhood point of view, are some quite spiffy looking new buildings, a rutted parking lot, a pile of rubble that has waist high grass has grown over it, and rows of tall Lombardy poplar trees on the north, east and west sides of the campus. It’s not exactly a beautiful site (or sight) but the trees do form a visual curtain and create a towering habitat for many bird species, from ravens to bushtits.
In an area woefully under-served by parks or green space of any kind, those trees have been, for as long as I’ve lived here (27 years) served as a low footprint vertical park space. Green poster-children for densification. When there aren’t many leaves, the stand of poplars is like a giant shadow puppet theatre, starring a huge and varied cast of birds and animals.
And this year, in April, Mountain Bluebirds – yes, Mountain Bluebirds! – spent a weekend at the school feasting on the smorgasbord of bugs living in the overgrown grass on the rubble pile before continuing on their journey north.
Male Mountain Bluebird on the chainlink fence at Notre Dame School.
Literally, a bluebird of happiness on a shoulder
A raven often visits the dilapidated parts of the school campus, resting on the parking lot fence or perching in the poplar branches, peacefully ignoring the inevitable crow harassment. His call cuts through the urban sounds of traffic and construction noise like a clear bell reminding us of the mountains and forests just a few miles away.
Environmentally, it’s alive. The trees and the grassy wasteland are doing their bit to capture carbon and host living things.
True, it’s not particularly attractive at the moment, and it’s certainly not doing the students at the school much good as they run around the school on the sidewalk or up to the local park for exercise and sports practice.
It would be wonderful to see them have an attractive sports field, as laid out in the 2008 permit.
Sports are an important part of the school curriculum, but surely there are other things that children need to experience and learn in school. Environmental studies? Ethics? Poetry? At my high school I loved the treed area by the grass hockey field and my best friend and I would read aloud to each other there at lunch breaks. Once a nerd, always a nerd.
If the school built a grass practice field as they agreed, it would save them millions of dollars over the cost of a fancy stadium. The trees could be saved and some of the savings could go into creating a border of native shrubs and grasses, encouraging the Mountain Bluebirds to visit every year. More fabulous educational possibilities – tracking the migratory path of the bluebird, exploring the challenges that climate change and human activity are posing for them on their journey, researching what could be added to the school grounds to make it an even more inviting stop over spot for them.
UBC’s Citizen Cool Kit also offers a great potential project for students to explore how the school could make their grounds as green as possible. They could map where Hastings Creek runs under the school and imagine the land they’re standing on as it was a hundred years ago. Who lived there? What did it look like? Ecology class could lead field trips on their very own campus!
If they go ahead with the sunken, artificial turf stadium, none of this will be possible.
First, the poplar trees will be doomed because the sunken field will run right up to the property line, and the root damage caused by such close proximity to a steep drop would make them unstable. City bylaws require that other trees replace those removed, but what tree of any size could grow atop an 8 foot retaining wall?
And don’t get me started on artificial turf! The City of Vancouver seems to love the stuff at the moment, especially as an “easy” answer for low maintenance sports facilities.
I covered a lot of my concerns about artificial turf in my early blog post, the cheerily titled Environmental Dead Zone — so I’ll just refer you to that. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the post for even more reading.
Urban nature is pretty tough, but it’s far from invincible. It needs some help in the form of creative thinking by planners, developers and politicians to thrive.
If the stadium plan goes ahead, I fear that there will far less birdsong in the neighbourhood. An absence of ravens, certainly no mountain bluebirds.
I imagine the crows will find reasons to stick around, if only to steal fast food wrappers dropped by stadium attendees and to laugh at our human folly.
The subject of our chat was my City Crow calendar in particular, and “crow therapy” in general.
I must admit that when I first coined the phrase “crow therapy” for city dwellers, I half meant it as a joke.
After all, there are already so many cures from our mental and spiritual ailments these days — ranging from the snake oil variety, to the truly helpful.
As I scroll through my social media feed and my blood pressure inevitably begins to rise — there it is — the ad for “Calm” (apparently the best-selling app of the year) floating serenely down the page. It seems to actually know which posts are going to aggravate me most so that it can make a timely and soothing appearance.
There is the lovely forest bathing therapy, and that is generally free – all you need is some forest in which to wander. That, and hiking in the mountains looking for ravens, are two of my favourite calming “apps.” Unfortunately, I have neither forest nor mountain on my doorstep, so those types of respite take a bit of time and planning.
Given how fraught our daily lives can be, we could all take to wandering the mountain trails and forest pathways on a full-time basis, having bid farewell to our jobs and families.
Or, we could look for a stress-busting technique that’s more readily at hand.
There are always those handy phone apps, of course. But it seems counter productive to spend yet more time looking at screens in order to reduce the tension often brought about by too much time immersed in that world to begin with.
What we need is a window OUT of our normal world, even for if it’s just for a few minutes.
Therefore, I present to you: Crow Therapy — 100% free, and readily available!
A crow knows what’s it like to be struggling to make it in the big city.
A crow isn’t perfect.
They don’t expect you to be either.
So what are you waiting for?
A Crow Therapist, or two, are likely waiting for you outside right now.