Rick and Cindy are names I’ve given a pair of doves who grace my patio each morning. I actually don’t know which is Rick and which is Cindy, and I can’t even decide if it’s actually the same two birds each day, though it’s fun imagining so.
They’re usually within a few feet of one another until they stroll around in search of the seed I drop. At times, as they groom themselves, one leans over to offer the other help, as if there’s some kind of silent requests passing between them. At other times one stalks angrily behind the other. I imagine that’s Rick, trying to justify his “birdliness.” For all I know it’s Cindy simply having a bad feather day.
But what I love most about them is the chant, five low notes in the key of B. The last three notes are the same and work as elipses that imply something new’s about to be told. The dirge is slow and repetative, and, for the record, one of the two sings a little flat: almost in A-sharp. I assume that’s Rick.
They sing the first hour or two after the sun has rolled up and over the Rincons, praising the morning. Sitting on my patio sipping a second cup of coffee and watching them, I wonder what this particular day might offer me. But this daily ritual nearly always returns my mind to my grandfather’s home on Whitefish Lake, just north and east of Lake Superior, in Ontario.
We would rise early enough that the sun was just a tease of light beginning to wash away the stars. My job was to fill the rusty red gas tank and attach it to the greasy Evinrude motor in the boat, and Grandpa’s job was to make sure I did that. June, Grandpa’s wife, would stroll out in a thick robe just as we were about to leave to offer us a basketful of sandwiches. Fishing requires a certain amount of peanut butter and a stained thermos of coffee.
I would sit up front, on a bench, while grandpa determined we had everything we needed prior to pulling the lanyard that would fire up the Evinrude. It took him some time to get arranged—especially when he quietly inspected the tackle box—which gave me the chance to sit still and listen to the morning. In hindsight, I know now that my grandfather was listening to the morning as well.
What strikes me is how much we can miss during our days, how oblivious it’s possible to become. The sheer volume of songbirds in the air at Whitefish Lake was nearly overwhelming, and yet a few minutes earlier I hadn’t heard a thing. I was too busy to notice.
I think my grandfather recognized the importance of these few minutes of quiet before the boat motor was fired up. I think he liked his quiet time, listening to the world around him—small sounds of water sloshing, numerous birds crying and singing, the muffled laugh of a child waking somewhere above the dock in one of his cabins—I think he needed just a tiny moment to adjust himself.
I think my grandfather taught me to pay attention to these two mourning doves before I head out into another traffic-snarled morning. He loved the grounding that nature gave him, and all the sounds that propagated off the wide lake.
He was a simple man and couldn’t have articulated that notion very well. Still, as we motored away from the dock, I was as certain as a boy could be that my grandfather was somehow closer to the Milky Way than me, and that his two desires, just then, were to bring home fresh Pickerel and to teach me the lost art of listening.
On better days we managed to do both. And on worse days? We bragged about the ones that got away . . .