I was feeling some impatience as I hand watered my under-achieving pumpkin plant at about 8:30 this morning. The plant has plenty of vines, leaves and blossoms, but as yet has not produced a single pumpkin. I have been lavish with chicken droppings. In an act of desperation I have even used Miracle Gro, in spite of my commitment to organic growth. The plants anaemic performance is making me more than a tad testy.
In the midst of my intolerant thoughts toward the pumpkin plant, a gentle voice calls to me from across the street.
“Good morning Art.”
It’s Ben, my neighbour from a few houses down the street. He is steadying himself with his cane while tending to Angelique’s chickens. He gladly assumes the role of guardian, feeder and friend of the birds when she is away.
I cross the street to chat with him, but he now seems oblivious to my presence. Noting his intense concentration, I remain standing somewhat apart, silently observing. I sense he is savouring a precious moment in his morning.
A mother hen and two chicks are waiting. Their colour is a pleasing light brown with dark circles around their necks. Very pretty. Leaning toward them, he grasps his cane firmly with one hand and scatters feed on the floor of their small compound with the other. The sense of kinship is palpable and I am reminded of the morning, many years ago, when my aged grandfather in rural Manitoba led me by the hand to his garden where we carefully selected the ripest watermelon.
The mother hen and her two young ones peck eagerly at the grain, clucking contentedly. He is speaking to them in soothing, almost reverential tones that carry a hint of music. These girls, as he refers to them, are cherished friends.
To me, this seems like a scene from another place and another era. His calm quiet demeanour and perceptible Swiss accent suggest he might just have wandered out of a small, remote 19th century village high in the Swiss Alps. Certainly he has much experience in Switzerland’s mountains, having been trained there in avalanche control. I know also that his Swiss father passed on to him a good deal of mountain lore.
Now though, with his beard and hair revealing several pleasant shades of grey, plus the ever present cane and his unhurried, deliberate movements, I can see that the robust strength and energy of earlier years have diminished considerably. Observing his interactions with these birds, it is easy to conclude that the loss of vigour has been compensated for by the gaining of a generous measure of understanding and patience.
He knows I am here, but his attention is still on the girls as he pulls a miniature harmonica from the pocket of his pants and briefly serenades them with a few perky notes. A Stellar Jay swoops down within a few metres of us, probably hoping to snatch a few grains, but possibly wanting to enjoy the music. Ben returns the harmonica to his pocket and closes the door to the pen. Then, smiling, he turns to me.
Although only as an observer, I realize I have participated in a memory creating small town experience that was not available to me when I lived in a condo in Abbotsford.