Updated: Feb 13, 2019
Do magpies ever miss their fathers? I like to think they conspire at messy family reunions, in the spring, maybe on Pentecost, flocking together in a band of gradient feathers of greens, blues and purples. But first they must say goodbye to their nest, to their parents, to home. How do they know when to go?
A bird’s nest reveals itself from the thick as more autumn leaves fall. In bushels of reds, yellows and browns lining the streets of London, they gently litter the ground; young children crunching fallen fauna beneath their petit, rubber boots. With scarves trailing behind their little puddles of footprints, the leaves begin to vanish, retreat and decay.
Winter, it seems, is defined not by what is there, but what is not there. It is not the snow that makes winter nor is it the presence of that cool, crisp air; it is the lack of sun, the wane of warmth, the absence of life. Winter is the bareness of the old family tree, the bird’s empty nest.
It was the summer when it happened; four days before mom’s birthday; five days before your coral anniversary. Forty years shared. The magpie remained nowhere to be seen, magpies don’t fly in Virginia.
On that day, like every other day, the trees were covered in Spanish moss, casting shadows on the road with spheres of sunlight glowing through. We weren’t far from where I was born, as we drove onto the Interstate – wait! Pull over, stop the car, find a hospital, fly in the helicopter, land in D.C., speak to doctors. Hear them breath: acute, aggressive leukaemia. The pictures of the X-rays cement in my mind. Too aggressive; an early Goodbye.
I am still on the sidewalk looking up at the nest. I could hold it in one hand, like a miniature basket, so fragile, made of twigs, grass and yarn. I see the pull tab of an old can of beer buried within it. The walls of reds, yellows and browns were stripped away, but it’s still a neat, little home.
Most of the leaves have blown away, or been collected, but something remains on the sidewalk, something left for me to decipher from the land of the lost. Made visible through each careless step, organic chemical compounds discolour the sidewalks like stamps on postcards from the past. They are like shadows removed from their Peter Pan bodies, lifeless memories scattered across the city. As eulogies of the sickened and the bygone they stay, until the muddy stains are washes away by dirty urban rain.
These shadows on the pavement are too precious to leave behind, too delicate to forget while they are still around. I imagine tracing the intricate patterns of each leaf, the tip of my forefinger numbing on the stoney ground, pretending the snaking lines connect and transform into a cursive script: Rudi Hanz, 1959-2014.
Looking for messages in these chlorophyll shadows, I wonder if he can see me too. The magpie sings and further I go; leaving my shadow covered by the bare trees, somewhere amongst fallen prints of the leaves for the lone magpie mother.