Crows to the Rescue

The peace of wild things has been so very much needed over the past weeks and months. Years.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

It can be hard to chisel those precious nuggets of joy from the daunting and somewhat featureless rock face of pandemic living —and there’s certainly no shortage of  things to wake us, clammy and panic stricken, in the night. In those sleepless hours, poetry and quiet prose is a wonderful solace (along with a cat on the lap, some medium-complicated knitting and a cup of Ovaltine.)

Going to lie down where the wood drake rests, however,  remains less of an option for us city dwellers.

Luckily, nature is really is everywhere — even in the the cacophonous concrete city.

It’s so easy to miss it all among all the stresses and distractions of urban life —but this is where the crow rescue squad can help. Just pay them a little attention, and they will drag your attention (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the Peace of Wild Things. Dammit.


Crows are wild things, but something … something … about them —  their tight family units, that look in the eye, that tilt of the head — makes them feel like quite close relations.

It really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch (trust me) to start having conversations with them.

Hey, Mabel — how’s the family? Got one of the kids home visiting I see.

Any sign of spring out there, Marvin and Mavis?

Again, I ask myself quietly, am I spending too much time with birds … ?

And I conclude: not possible. I’d happily spend a lot MORE time with birds!

In fact, every time a see any bird — crow, sparrow, hawk or bushtit, I feel a thrill.

Perhaps it’s because where I grew up, on the Quayside of the industrial Tyne River in Newcastle in  50’s and 60’s Britain, the only birds I saw were rooftop pigeons and distant gulls. (See: Birth Of An Urban Nature Enthusiast)

It seemed to me then that things like birds and trees and squirrels and grass were just for rich people — so that’s what makes spending time with crows and all the other birds lurking in my part of the city, feel like such luxury.

And why it feels as if having a crow rescue committee for darker days is wealth beyond compare, even if I don’t have anywhere to lie down with them.
Probably not such a good idea in any case, when it comes to crows …

I’ve looked at life from both sides now …

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvin and Mavis

….Would Like To Speak to the Manager

Marvin and Mavis are the models for some of my most popular images.
Judgemental Crows, for example; that’s Marvin and Mavis . . . and I see them staring at me with that stern look every single day.

Their critical gazes always seem to imply that I’ve mucked up the service again.

Did I inadvertently press the “torrential rain” button again?

Have I gone and leaned on the “unbearable heat” lever in the climate control room?

And really, to be honest, they’ve had a few valid complaints over the last year and a bit.

How Come No-One Told Us How Exhausting Kids Are?

I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were even more thrilled than I that they were finally able to raise two beautiful fledglings this year after many years of disaster and disappointment. But of course, like all parents, they had their moments of asking “did I really sign up for this?” and it WAS a particularly challenging summer to be raising young of  any species, with the Heat Dome and weeks of hot and unrelentingly dry weather on top of all the usual parent stuff.

Marvin and Mavis sneaking away to the stadium fence for a few minutes of peace.

They were busy for weeks, keeping the babies fed and alive while they learned the essential crow life skills of getting their own food, flying without crashing into stuff, not playing on the road, and avoiding getting eaten.

Mavis and one of the cute kids

Here’s one of the babies, after much encouragement from mom and dad, gingerly grabbing their own snacks from the back deck for the first time.

Once the kids finally got the knack of acquiring their own grub they became a lot more independent and free ranging. By late August they were off doing their own thing much of time and hanging out with the other neighbourhood teens.

At least they didn’t ask to borrow the car.

What Have You Done With All The Trees?

Another hot button topic for the past couple of years has been “who keeps taking all the darn trees?”

Since mid-2019 their little half block area has lost 24 big trees, leaving a big hole in their habitat, and that of all the local wildlife.

Raccoon peacefully sleeping in the old poplars

Twenty-one huge poplars were removed in summer 2019 to make way for the Notre Dame High School football stadium and were supposed to be replaced last spring. Trees WERE planted in April but most were dying even before the Heat Dome, and now they are a row of crispy sticks.

On behalf of the wildlife (and people) who are left without shade and beauty, I’ve been writing to the school and the City to see when replacement trees might be expected. We don’t have an answer on that as there’s a fundamental design flaw with the landscaping and retaining wall that needs to be resolved first.

I tell Marvin and Mavis this and they look less than impressed.

Marvin poses with one of the many dead trees at Notre Dame.

In addition to the lost poplars, three big street trees have  been removed or fallen in this one half block over the last few months, making the loss of habitat and shade even more noticeable.

The plum tree shown below, further down the block,  lost a limb recently and looks likely to be joining the list of the fallen any day now.

I’ve been writing more letters and reaching out to City staff and officials on the topic of street trees, as well as the privately-owned Notre Dame trees — asking to have lost trees on this block, and in the surrounding area, replaced as soon as possible.

I’m also trying to  encourage the City to plant trees  on the currently barren boulevard beside the school’s stadium. I hope that, once the school trees are finally replanted and thriving, a double row of trees would create a slightly pocket park-like area for our park impoverished neighbourhood, as well as providing nest sites and protection for the local wildlife.

Potential pocket park …

These proposals are crow-approved.

Who’s In Charge of Neighbourhood Watch?

Marvin and Mavis would like it known that that the ancient territorial rules, whereby each crow family keeps to its own half block, are not being taken seriously by certain crows this year.

Our fearless couple are spending a lot of time in full fierce ‘n’  fluffy mode, resolutely guarding their slice of paradise from crow rivals.

Regular flouters of boundaries include my old friend Mabel, who often makes cheeky incursions from the West. That’s almost expected as our backyard used to “belong” to George and Mabel, back in the day.

Below: Marvin deploys the “eyes in the back of the head” technique before eating his morning peanuts.

Mavis, eyes on the sky for interlopers.

I’m pretty sure some of the other crows they caw angrily at are actually the kids, trying to come home to do the corvid version of peering into the family fridge — as recently moved out young adults are wont to do.

One of today’s visitors, who definitely has the look of a returning family member.

All in all, I could sum up Marvin and Mavis’s current mood as “disgruntled.”

But who can blame them really? It’s been a tough, tough year for all of us.

 

For more on the life story of Marvin and Mavis:

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Crow Therapy Thoughts

This summer I gave a couple of webinars on the topic of Crow Therapy and it’s something I think about almost every day as I try to understand why, after 15 years or so, I never tire of watching and taking photos of my local crows. Somehow I feel that the crows are a key to unlocking a big mystery and I’m still working on what it is. But here’s what I’ve got so far, starting with what I don’t think it is.

Precarious

Every time I write the phrase Crow Therapy I worry that it sounds just a little exploitative — as if crows, like the rest of nature, are just there for our entertainment.  As if it’s something that could be packaged in a fancy jar and marketed to a stressed consumer. *

Fashion Statement

I hope it’s a more reciprocal arrangement — one in which crows can regularly jolt me out of my default setting of seeing the human race as the centre of the universe.

A little daily crow therapy reminds me that other lives  —  every bit as ordinary and epic as mine — are being lived alongside mine. This realization brings great  joy, but also a weight of responsibility and I feel a constant obligation to communicate both. 

Interpretive Dance

Joy, I feel, is something that we’re going to need more of in the coming years — and it needs to be a different joy than the kind with which we’ve soothed ourselves up to now.  We need a more sustainable source of joy — less of the kind  acquired via tropical holidays and the general accumulation of material things. I’ve convinced myself at different times in my life that I’m just one Tupperware container, one pair of pants, or that fabulous kitchen appliance away from my whole life falling into place, so I’m as much in need of convincing on this front as anyone else.**

Judgemental Crows

For the last few days my Twitter feed has been a rushing river of terrifying news from my own province of BC — roads and rail lines washed away, entire towns flooded, homes and lives lost in a moment. In the midst of this harrowing torrent, an ad for Lincoln cars bobs up regularly like a jolly life buoy. The ad assures me that driving a Lincoln will provide great relaxation in the face of life’s little frustrations — things liking having odd socks disappear in the laundry and (in a final touch of unintentional irony) having my umbrella blown inside out by the wind in a storm. 

I am 100% sure that a new Lincoln is NOT the answer to life’s daily trials,  and definitely not the way to relieve the sadness of seeing life inevitably altered by climate change and coming to terms with the difficult changes that will be needed.

But I do know that spending half an hour watching crows will help.

Philosopher Crow

Or watching rain drip onto a patch of moss. Or listening to the Northern Flickers chattering.

This is a sustainable joy, free, readily available to anyone, and consuming no natural resources … and  it’s the kind of joy I’m trying to rely on more and more.

I do realize that I spend so much time exploring the meandering rabbit hole of my Crow Therapy theory, that I often fail to get around to posting anything about actual crows any more.  I have a musing problem, I know …

Consequently I have a huge backlog of crow news and photos, so I will try to remedy this, starting tomorrow with a Marvin and Mavis update.

I guess the one thing that I was trying to say in this post was that I mean the idea of crow therapy (and my images) to be, not just a respite from general and/or climate stress, but also an inspiration and a focus for taking action to make things better — for ourselves, for crows, for nature as a whole.

You might also be interested in: 

 

*& **  I say these things, even as I hope you’ll purchase my images, calendars, bags etc, to enable me to continue thinking about, writing about and photographing crows, so I am aware of contradictions and I am far from having all the answers.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seeking Balance

When we talked about “finding balance” in the Before Times, it seemed different.

More aspirational. More of a long term, “I’ll get there eventually” sort of concept.

These days it seems more like an immediate and visceral struggle — with some of them going far better than others.

One moment you’re a ninja of mindfulness — listening to soothing music instead of doom-scrolling, whipping up scones, churning out preserves, finishing little projects here, starting ambitious new ones there, getting lots of fresh air and exercise, taking one moment at a time, and generally thinking, “I’ve got this.”

In short: you’re CRUSHING this whole balance thing. Easy peasy!

Marvin goes for gold in the Olympic fencing category

Unfortunately those days, for me at least, are rare — dare I say, imaginary — especially as we meander into year two of stress and uncertainty.

There are many more days when my scrolling thumb is screaming for relief, thoughts are scrambled and nerves are stretched thin enough to pluck a plaintive and off key ballad called “Enough Already.”

Balance, in other words, proves elusive.


As you may have gathered, it’s been a rough week.

I’ve recently taken up Fair Isle knitting for the first time in a long time. You really have to concentrate and, if you follow the pattern, it works out more or less as it’s supposed to, which is particularly reassuring at the moment. Another plus — it’s impossible to doom-scroll at the same time.

And, of course, there are always the crow therapists — like Marvin the fencing champion shown above. And Mavis, keeping a stern eye on me . . .

Spring is here — and just as they brought joyful visual messages during difficult times last year . . .

Crow flying against blue sky with trailing branch of blossoms

. . . my crow neighbours are painting hopeful pictures again now.

Leap of Faith

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

Snow Crows

There’s something magically transformative about snow. I’ve amassed a large collection of vintage snow globes, and even made some of my own featuring quirky local landmarks. In summary, I’m a bit of a sucker for snow.

We had what looks to be this winter’s only snowfall here in Vancouver in mid-February. I was excited to write about it then, but since Texas and other US states were undergoing very real suffering from unseasonably cold weather, snow and ice at that point, it didn’t seem tactful to be waxing lyrical about it. I’m feeling that it might be OK to indulge now …

We get very few days of snow in a typical Vancouver winter, so when the flakes start to fall I’m out of the house with my camera as much as possible. On top of the beguiling alliteration, the combination of “crow” and “snow” is pure enchantment.

Here is a crow with snow, folk music and starling accompaniment …

From a technical point of view, snow is both blessing and curse for crow photography. The camera wants to focus on each falling snowflake rather than the bird, so that’s a challenge. The contrast of the black feathers and the all white landscape also needs considerable over-exposure to reveal the detail in the crows.

But the light! The light is magic — beautifully soft, no harsh highlights, bouncing back into those dark feathers and bringing out the shades of mauve and indigo, pearl and navy. It’s as if the whole world is a light box designed especially for photographing crows. Woohoo!!!

White Wing in the snow

The Wings in a Winter Wonderland

And you just never know what might happen. I accidentally found the snow version of a four leafed clover when photographing Mavis in the back garden this year.

Not yet …

Be patient …

Keep looking …

Bingo!

For just one microsecond a snowflake kept its perfect crystalline form on her face. And I got a photo of it!!

Particularly amazing to see this in Vancouver, where the temperature is usually too warm for snow crystals to remain intact long enough to be visible. It’s the little things that make a photographer’s day!

Another fun thing about a snow day is seeing how the crows adapt to it.

The Walkers not only dealt with the weather conditions, they also gave me instructions on how to do so.

Instead of walking along with me to the bump at the bottom of the tree where I customarily leave a few peanuts, as he normally does, Mr. Walker flew over my shoulder and landed on a higher, slightly less snow covered burl on the tree as if to say, “this will be a better spot to leave them today.”

So I did as instructed and everyone was pleased.

It was young Chip’s first snowfall.

A puzzling development,  but she shook it off with aplomb.

Now the flowers are coming up, birds are collecting nesting materials and spring is very much in the air, but I had fun looking back at our brief yet magical period of Crows in a Winter Wonderland. Hope you did too.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Crow Bingo

Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:

Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.

But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.

My goals for Crow Bingo:

  • get people out of the house
  • give parents a focus for walks with kids
  • introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
  • encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
  • sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet

So here we go …

For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:

You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …

 INTERMEDIATE LEVEL CROW BINGO:

If you want take your own copy of CROW BINGO to take on your walks with you here  are printable versions of BEGINNERS and INTERMEDIATE CROW BINGO.

Feel free to print as many as you like, share with friends, teachers, whoever you think might benefit from a therapeutic round of Crow Bingo.

I’ll be working on a special Nesting Season Bingo card soon!

Also, I’d love to hear from you with ideas for new squares in Crow Bingo.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chip’s Tips For Hanging Around

It would seem that the local corvids took exception to the title of my “Boring Walks” series and have been pulling out all the stops to prove me very wrong.

Young Chip must have been especially offended, as she’s been starring in her own production of Cirque du Corvid this week.

Remember I said in Boring Walks Part One that Chip is fast and cheeky? It seems that she read that and thought, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

At first I didn’t notice Chip at all. It was Marvin, sitting on the fence and staring intently up at the sky.

So I looked up to see what he was watching …

In all my years of watching crows, I’ve only ever seen this hanging upside routine once before.

But Chip wasn’t JUST hanging around. Oh no.

She hung there for a minute or so and then let go, prompting Marvin to give chase.

That was so much fun, so she did it again. And again.

Looking to see if Marvin is watching

 

A head tuck and fiddle with the feet

 

And down she goes

Marvin cannot look away

Chip apparently decided that the “hang and drop” routine was too simple, and added to her routine by clambering, using feet and beak, between the multiple rows of wires.

But with the same end goal — flip, hang, drop and get chased. Woohoo!!

Down on the ground, I was literally gasping at the acrobatic skill. At the same time, I was laughing out loud at her determination to draw Marvin, who was trying to look very dignified, into her vortex of fun and games.

Chip’s family, The Mabels, weren’t even around — it was just her, having a laugh with the neighbours. She often visits the garden when Marvin and Mavis are there. They’re pretty territorial and have spent months trying to chase her off, but they seem less fussed about her presence lately.  After all, she is pretty darn entertaining — and way too fast to catch anyway.

Chip’s lesson for me this week — you can just be hanging around, being bored and a bit grumpy — or you can go ahead and make an art form out of it.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Boring Walks Part 1

There are some mornings when I’m so thoroughly sick of walking the same few blocks around our house. Like everyone else, it’s been close to a year of being mostly confined to same few kilometres.

It’s a proper test of the “Urban Nature Enthusiast” philosophy — finding new things to marvel at in your own backyard and all. I must admit that the last week I’ve been starting to think I’d reached the limit of exploring everything on the same old, same old walk as if it was a voyage to a new land.

Ground Hog Day syndrome had set in.

It was in that spirit of ennui that I set out on yesterday morning’s walk. I wasn’t even sure if I should bring my camera as the weather looked so unpromising. Luckily my corvid therapists must have sensed I needed a boost.

The first part of the walk already cheered me up considerably as I was followed by my new friend, Chip. Small, fast, cheeky, and prone to defying crow territorial convention by following me on the whole walk, Chip always cheers me up.

She’s one of Mabel’s 2020 fledglings, and a clear favourite to follow in her mother’s majestic foot prints. She’s the only one allowed, for example to sit on Mabel’s coveted golden throne. I was glad I brought the camera after all.

Getting a taste for power

Mabel watches on patiently. Sometimes she’ll push Chip off the throne, but she was apparently feeling indulgent this morning.

Further on, the walk also included visits with the Wet Walker family …

… and the similarly rain-spangled White Wing and partner.

The Wings are enthusiastic Block Watch members

Heading home, I was feeling quite satisfied with my “boring” walk. My urban nature battery felt sufficiently recharged and I was ready to pack it in an have a cup of coffee when I heard THAT SOUND.

My husband says it’s the equivalent of the dog sensing a squirrel (SQUIRREL!!!)

Just as squirrels set Geordie’s every nerve end a-tingling, the the slightest whisper of a raven call carried on the wind does the same to me. Raven radar instantly engaged! At first I thought it might have been just wishful thinking, but there it was again . . .

Stay tuned for Boring Walks Part 2, coming next!

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Crow Signals

While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.

It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.

You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.

But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant,  makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.

Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.

Exclamation point!

Full stop.

Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.

In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.

You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .

Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .

Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)

The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.

By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.

And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we  see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.

Some miscellaneous messages from crows:

A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.

Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.

So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …

The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.

This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.

Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll.  For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.

At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.

The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.

The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.

Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

New Year’s Eve

This vintage wooden roller coaster at East Vancouver’s Playland is often ringed with crows as they enjoy a little sub-party on their way to or from the big roost at Still Creek.

When we walked by this morning, on this the last day of 2020, there was only a solitary crow. It sat alone with the whole row of coloured light bulbs all to itself.  No roller coaster cars rattling by. No other crows.

Perhaps because I tend to view almost everything through a crow-shaped lens, our solo crow seemed an apt symbol for New Year’s Eve 2020.

No big parties. Many of us sitting at home viewing the world from a lonelier vantage point than we’re used to, especially on this night of the year.

Many of us with twinkly lights for mood lifting company.

To be honest, I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit of a melancholy celebration. The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne make me feel a bit weepy. It’s early in the evening still here, so I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling by midnight.

Possibly more weepy than usual.

Possibly less, as the end of 2020 leaves little to regret.

However you’re feeling, remember (yet another treasure from my mother’s kit bag of handy sayings) “tomorrow is another day.”

And, also, another year.

And that day/year will have crows in it.

Crows you may know quite well,  and other crows you may admire from afar and rashly imbue with symbolic importance.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content