Snow Birds

Already it seems as if we might just have dreamed it.

Once upon a time, one Saturday morning in February, we woke up in a crystal palace.

A thick and flawless blanket of snow had fallen silently through the Vancouver night. The sun had come out. Everything looked like a fairy tale.

Photo of me, like a kid on Christmas morning, out in the garden in my dashing plaid housecoat.

The landscape itself was breathtaking so we just stood around, being robbed of breath.

Movement in my the trees made me think “… and there are birds.”

Not only is there landscape, but there are BIRDS in it. It felt like a surprise gift.

Of course I know this —  given that I think about, follow, write about, and photograph the darn things every day of my life. But somehow it just struck me then that birds are like an extra dimension. Like a new hue in the colour spectrum. A huge bonus.

Northern Flicker in a white landscape

It made me remember that I didn’t really notice birds much until my 50’s.

In my twenties, I lived in a cabin miles from anywhere, and there must have been many birds in my solitary world. Somehow I remember the trees, the moss, lichen and wild flowers in great detail, but no birds. There must have been ravens, for heaven’s sake, but I just didn’t register them.

Intrepid song sparrow

People often ask me how I came to start taking pictures of crows and other birds.

When both of my parents died within a couple of years of each other (almost twenty years ago now) I started photographing as a form of home-made therapy. I obsessively made very closely observed portraits of plants for several years, eventually turning it into my profession.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I was out in the garden, hunched over a hosta (as per usual) when I heard some crows making a terrific racket above me. I’m sure this was not the first time, but for some reason that day my head, tilted for so many years towards the earth, turned to look at the sky. In my mind, there was a creaking sound as I made the adjustment.

There are birds.

I finally noticed.

Better late than never, I guess.

Marvin and Mavis in the coral bark maple

And, as many of you know, once you start noticing crows, there’s no going back.

And they’re just the thin end of the wedge. Once you start watching crows, the next thing you know, there are house sparrows and starlings and robins and chickadees and flickers. And, good grief, was that a hummingbird …?

So, the snow day, beautiful as the scenery was, also served to make me appreciate the bird dimension of landscape all over again.

It was as if I’d forgotten about them all for a minute and then remembered.

Marvin “snow swimming” on the neighbour’s roof.

A robin and a flicker share the heated birdbath facilities.

A junco enjoys the pool to himself.

Marvin and Mavis enjoying some welcome sun.

Chickadee on one leg, trying to warm up one foot at a time.

Snow covered crow’s nest.

Marvin, having looked at snow from both sides now …

 

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Correspondence

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Later this week I will have sent myself “via airmail” to my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England. I’ll be there for the opening of Spring Show at The Biscuit Factory Gallery, where a series of my bird images, entitled Correspondence, will be exhibited.

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CORRESPONDENCE: letters sent or received

So many airmail letters, cards, and pressed flower collections passed between my mother and me. We wrote to each other from 1976, when I moved to Canada, until 1997, when she died. I keep many of our letters in a box under the bed.

Letters

I like to re-read them every few years because I see completely different things in them now than when I received them in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I guess that’s because I’m now “catching up” with my mother; getting to the same stations on life’s journey that she’d passed through decades ahead of me. Parts that I had skipped over in my youth now grab my attention and recognition in an entirely different way.

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Although no more mail arrives from my mother; and although I no longer stick stamps on letters to her; I like to think the correspondence continues through my artwork. In my images I’m always pointing to things I know she’d have loved. I also like to think it’s the equivalent of a box of letters on the subject of “things that are important” for my children to go through one day in the distant future. At least, I’m fairly confident they will think of me almost every time they see a crow or a raven!

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Raven Correspondence

CORRESPONDENCE: a close similarity, connection, or equivalence:

I like to think of my photographs of birds as portraits, rather than as scientific illustrations. I try to capture a look in the eye or a pose that captures the connection between birds and people. Although they have evolved along an entirely different path from that of the human race, I can’t help but feel, especially after the hours I’ve spent watching crows, that there is much we have in common.

Worrying about our children, furnishing our nests, trying to survive … we are all connected.

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Song Sparrow with Snowdrops

 

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