We're off to Q. City Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday, Nathalie and I, to say goodbye to Oncle Jean, who got a tummy ache awhile back that turned out to be terminal cancer. We're going for one last visit to this gentle old man, who in his 94th year is being called home, as some would put it. I must speak with him in French, because he can't converse in English. I could say, when it's time to leave, "Sois bien", which doesn't apply, for to wish someone to "be well" implies that it's is still possible. I'm tempted to say what I always say in situations such as this, the simple, but illogical "See ya". Illogical because I won't ... see him again, except at the funeral parlor. In French that would be "a la prochaine" (till next time), though we both know there'll be no next time. But it sounds better than the sad-filled "So long" or finality-laden "Goodbye". See ya on the other side (if there is another side). (If only they could find a way to tell us.) Of course, one could say nothing at all - pretend it's just another visit. I did that when I crossed four states to say goodbye to Bini. We both said "See ya", continuing the pretence (or was it veiled hope?) Like a shared secret, we didn't even let on to each other. Humans are funny that way. We cope how we can.
Oncle Jean, who always sat and talked to me, despite my poor French and his limited vocabulary of English. He'd grasp my hand and smile, give you his undivided attention, never once corrected me for my grammar, always rose from his chair to greet you, this thin, frail, elegant old man, genuinely interested to listen even if there was no news to tell. A lifetime of prayer, and teaching, his family mostly gone; now all those descendants, sprung from that ever-diminishing older generation, their spouses, children, children's children ... we make our last visits, not unaware that for some of us, yes, we're next, (we laugh) - knowing this scene will just repeat. I will miss the carefully fashioned annual Christmas card which in this age of duplicatability, means everyone got to get one. Everyone, down to the last little cousin. While the rest of us mainly use email now (saves so much postage, 'tis true), Oncle Jean's greetings still come hand-delivered by post - (I mentally correct that to "came') in which he always writes - (I mentally correct that to "wrote"), that we'd always be in his prayers. There will be no such cards this year. I'm thinking, it is a good thing sometimes to always be in somebody's prayers, that if you're told by some serious-looking white-coated physician that you'll soon no longer "be", as you slowly drift further toward the "going" (to wherever it is we all go when we croak) - there's comfort in believing that some of those that are left behind still remember. I suspect, Oncle Jean will still say he's keeping on praying for us - a praying man to the very end. I see those bright, eager eyes, that warm, friendly smile, that kind, ageless old face - for I have only known him as old. I don't know about you but I tire when reading long poems, especially such line-chopped prose as this pretending to be a poem, but it seemed a fitting format for this spontaneous tribute to the kind old man I know as Oncle Jean - who is not really my uncle at all but family nonetheless. I wanted just to thank him for those few brief conversations, for all those heartfelt intercessions on my behalf to the mysterious Whatever, "beyond". Merci encore, Oncle Jean. See ya.
If we do not see each other again
in this life or any other, let’s agree
to each take the time,
whenever we can,
to imagine us all standing at the rail
confused but delighted at the endless,
deathless sea before us
with no need to speak of desperation
for once. Imagine us all
in sunset, in sunrise, under a laughing moon.
Imagine a shared moment
where it didn’t need to make sense
that there was no sense to the voyage.
* Thanks to permission from Tony Brown, who several years ago told me I could share any of his poems, and will do so again in an upcoming issue of too-long dormant Salamander Cove in July/August.
A little hand-carved wooden figure by
sculptor Robert Jean, of Saint-Jean-Port-Jolie, $1
When I brought him home, I put him next to another carved wooden figure
that I got some years ago that's actually an incense holder.
They seem to be getting along just fine together.
I was not so sure, however, about Francis and François.
Francis is a wooden deer with broken antlers, carved from driftwood, gotten in Vermont.
This carved horse, now called François, was sitting on a table
at the garage sale, ignored by all the passersby.
He reminded me a bit of Francis. I, too, passed him by -
but then went back. Something about those eyes.
His backside includes this gaping hole
that resembles a mouth, howling.
Here's an imaginary (photographic) intro between the two sculptures
as they size each other up.
"Hello, who's this you've brought home with you?"
May I present François, I said,
emphasizing his finer-sculpted points.
Francis checks him out.
I'm taller than you, Francis thinks.
You can join me in sentinel duty at the window,
he says, authoritatively.
Because photographers can manipulate perception,
here it would seem they are the same height
and Francis appears more friendly.
As in all contrived, anthropomorphic stories,
a happy ending trumps a not so happy one.
I truly do not know if Francis and François will get along,
or if the perpetually smiling wooden man won't occasionally
feel like frowning -- but in our world, inanimate objects
don't speak or feel, and so can't really tell us.
And yet they do, when imagination takes over,
giving a tiny, decorative clunk of metal
On the way to work this morning, a bee
in the visitor cat's water bucket.
Lacking a twig or spoon to extract it,
he used his car key - bee stopped
flailing, struggled aboard, got a
short ride, then wobbled off
into the grass. Recovery imminent.
Had he left bee in the carport,
the cat who'd come soon would get curious,
probably get stung - doesn't
need another wound as badge of survival -
like its frost-chewed half
ear, compliments of one more winter
worse than the two last.
Creature headcount stats so far this year -
more stray cats
Life coming life going, now
spring, and revival -
until the wind changes
and the drinkwater in the bucket freezes
The snow geese in autumn honk and fly by on their way south, but seldom stop. During spring, however, as many as 500,000, on their way to Baffin Island (Nunavut territory) descend en masse on Baie-du-Febvre, on the shores of Lac Saint-Pierre, Quebec. Why here?
The 5,000-kilometre journey requires a lot of energy. Prime sources of energy are the residues of maize crops left on the fields from the previous autumn, and they are safe here in the Biosphere Reserve, from natural predators. They will spend several days in these staging areas, then continue on to the Canadian Arctic, arriving there in June.
April 12 - Sunday - "Respect"
Observers are urged not to cross the fences or approach the winged visitors in the field, to let them feed and rest. This is a crucial step in their migration where they will accumulate the energy they need to continue their journey.
April 13 - Monday - "Against All Odds"
10:30 a.m. An estimated 200,000 snow geese suddenly arrive in Baie-du-Febvre sector.
April 14 - Tuesday - "Migration Stable"
An estimated 175,000 to 200,000 geese in Baie-du-Febvre sector today. No less than 40 varieties of birds including a golden eagle and two eagles in our area spotted. Also several varieties of ducks.