Within a churchyard, on a recent grave, I saw a little cage That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence save Its hops from stage to stage.
There was inquiry in its wistful eye, And once it tried to sing; Of him or her who placed it there, and why, No one knew anything.
– The Caged Goldfinch, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Each day, this summer, I have enjoyed a bike ride along the Tidal Bore near Truro. There I find a great variety of fellows to be with. Their presence feeds me. When I happen on a fox or an eagle, I am humbled. When I am overtaken by people trussed up in their expensive cycling costumes speeding through the landscape on machines with several gears, I am puzzled. I know progress cannot be purchased nor intimacy enforced.
Wearing my usual clothing and a hat as a shield from the sun, I ride a one-speed bike. The path is mostly flat. When I get to the sloping section, I stand up on my bike, expending a little more of my own energy to continue advancing. Once over the slight incline that makes me work harder, I am often rewarded by the sight of bright goldfinches bounding along ahead of me. I yearn to get close to them. They always progress a few flits beyond my grasp. I accept this. I do not seek to coax them to approach me so that I can indulge in the way I want to experience them or, worse, have them. Surrendering to the reality of their particular nature, I follow along.
I understand passionate birdwatchers are the same. They go to where the creatures are. They watch them from a respectful distance. There are people, human beings, starving in our world. There is absolutely no reason to feed birds. There is actually no reason to feed dogs or cats either, or horses, but we have such a long tradition of controlling and organizing nature that if you suggest stepping back from our attempts to dominate, there is an outcry. “Why be with it when you can buy it?” our world seems to be saying. Every day along the Tidal Bore path I see people dragging their dogs along as they peer down at cellphones. Some are also carrying throw-away coffee cups – perhaps our worst accessory.
Thank goodness for the most reassuring person I encounter on the same path: a gentleman who walks with a big stick to steady himself. He also carries binoculars to better appreciate the birds that flock along the shore.
Some days we stop to talk. We share a love of the peace we find on the trail: peace not easy to maintain during busy days in town – even a small town like Truro.
“What if we stopped busying ourselves by organizing nature to just exist with each other?” my comrade asked wistfully one morning. Paul McCartney’s fine song came to mind: “Let It Be.”
Thanks to people like Mr. Currie that message is getting out. Nature doesn’t need us to feed her. Perhaps in leaving the birds, bees, horses, dogs, cats, flowers and trees alone we can become more available to hear each other’s song.
Another morning, as I was pedalling back to Truro from the trail, I came upon a man slumped on the sidewalk surrounded by bags of groceries. I stopped to see if he was in distress. I listened to him. He didn’t make much sense. He just needed to get things off his chest. As I heard his concerns, I felt powerless because I wanted to change his situation. But all I could do was continue paying attention. Upon hearing the tune he was chirping, plaintive as it was, I bid him good day, and continued on my way. I pedalled with all my might remembering the spark-like lemon-coloured birds who fly freely – ever advancing beyond us all.
Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia artist and filmmaker.