Untimely Deaths

cedar waxwings

Our house in Edmonton had a sunroom with a large picture window looking onto our back yard. One day I pulled the blind up and stood for a minute gazing at the garden. Suddenly three birds flew in quick succession into the window with three loud thumps and fell to the ground. I rushed outside hoping they had only knocked themselves out. Three dead cedar waxwings lay beneath the window. They probably all had broken necks.

Evidently, the leader was flying toward a large fichus tree we had in the sunroom, and the two other birds, perhaps a mate and an offspring, followed to their deaths.  I vowed to put decals on the window, but I never got around to it. In any case, that was the first and last time such a thing happened in the 23 years we lived in the house.

This waxwing tragedy has periodically come to my mind over the years. Maybe the three dead birds represent something about life’s contingency and randomness for me, but on some level I think I actually mourn them. After all, our picture window, our fichus tree, and my pulling the blind up at precisely that moment all played a part in their untimely deaths.

When we moved to the tony Oak Bay municipality of greater Victoria, I started to worry about inadvertently killing an elderly person, which would arguably be somewhat worse than causing the deaths of three birds. I don’t think seniors are going to start flying into the windows of our condo, of course. But they shoot out like pinballs on the crosswalks on Oak Bay Ave. I nearly ran several down when we first moved here. To make myself mindful, I renamed the avenue Be Careful St. Old people are constantly crossing the streets here. There’s even a joke in Oak Bay: Why did the senior cross the road? She saw a car coming.

It’s an older demographic here, and that makes both driving and walking more hazardous for sure. A friend of mine who lives in the much younger environs of Vancouver told me that before he ventures into a crosswalk in Victoria he tries to make eye contact with drivers, especially ones wearing hats. “What do hats have to do with anything?” I asked him. “Haven’t you noticed that old farts invariably wear hats?” I think just as he said it, he noticed my flat cap.

Alas, I am myself part of the older demographic I complain about.  The pattern my brain generates that I call me hasn’t kept pace with my aging body. The pattern is still about 35, but in reality if I want to make eye contact with a senior wearing a hat, all I have to do is look in the mirror just before I walk out the door. Maybe I’m getting jumpy about driving down Oak Bay Ave. because the aging pinballs shooting into the crosswalks are too much for my aging reflexes.

I’m pretty sure that the same old geezer pedestrians I’ve been cursing curse me when I’m a pedestrian, and they aren’t saying, “I wish that young man would look where he’s going.”

So living in Victoria, certainly in Oak Bay, means living on the edge. Both walking and driving around entail a real possibility of killing or getting killed. No one, though, would call the ensuing deaths untimely like the deaths of the three cedar waxwings. We have lived beyond the point when our deaths, however they’re caused, can be considered tragic.

All of this gives me yet another reason to love crows. These crafty urban birds know what a picture window is, and they’re way too smart and agile to get hit by a car on Oak Bay Ave.

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