An elder once told me that I should always pay attention when animals appear.  I didn’t take much notice, except perhaps when the loon I wrote about in my previous post showed up and swam with me. Living in the hills there are often animals around.  Sometimes I drive along the road, and there’s a turtle trying to cross, or a duck and her brood, or a deer and a couple of fawn.  Nice to see, a bit worrisome, in case they get hit by traffic, but their sightings didn’t used to speak to me.  Until there was Heron.

Between my mother’s funeral and her burial, I bought a house, or that’s how my story starts when people ask me how I came to move to Wakefield.  Sometimes I continue… because all my family live in the UK, the same day that I received the news of my mother’s death, I flew over the Atlantic to be with my brothers.  The funeral took a while to arrange.  By the time all the necessary details had been dealt with, and we had gone through the cremation and service of celebration, it was too late for me to fly back home to Canada.   I had a meeting in Singapore, so I changed my flights and flew on from London, re-packing my bags with work clothes and sending my husband home with my laundry. 

It was while I was in Singapore that the house appeared in my Inbox. Although I must have been on a real estate agent’s mailing list, buying a house was the furthest thing from my mind. I was exhausted from travelling, emotionally wrung out, far from Canada, and far from being able to take any rational decisions. But the house looked perfect. By the time I flew back to the UK for Christmas, to inter my mother’s ashes, I had flown home from Singapore, purchased a house and put our previous house on the market.

We moved into our Wakefield home on Valentine’s Day, at least I moved in with the dog and the cats.  Our previous house took a while to sell, and so my husband lived there during the week, carrying out the small changes that the realtor said were needed to make it sale-worthy. I fell into my new daily routine quickly.  I would get up around 5am, shower, dress and prepare myself for work, then take the dog for a walk along the river, before scurrying to the community centre to catch the bus. 

From Geggie park at dawn

I grew to love those morning walks through Geggie park.  It was quiet, the sun would be coming up behind the hills, the colour of the sky was different every day; vivid oranges and reds, or subtle greys and purples.  The river was calm like a mill pond, or a breeze would riff across the water, scudding tiny waves, or rain would make patterns that chased across the surface.  The dog and I would pad quietly along the path noticing the little details that changed each day.

River dawn

My mother loved Wakefield.  After we moved to Canada, she, who had never flown in her life, and hated the thought of it, overcame her fear and made the journey every year to stay with us.  And, every year we would drive to Wakefield.  She loved to walk by the river, to visit the shops and to watch her grandchildren playing in the park.  It was the days of the steam train, we would have lunch at the Pot au Feu and my very frugal mother would give the children coins to place on the tracks to watch the train flatten them.  Sometimes even toonies, to see whether the train would meld or separate the two metals. 

My Mum’s last visit to Wakefield

I don’t remember now when Heron first showed up.  When I look back, I feel like he was there from the day I moved into the house, but that can’t be right, the river was fully frozen for weeks after we moved.  Great herons migrate south for the winter, only returning in April, when the ice has left the rivers.  So, Heron can’t have been there until April at the earliest.  But one day he was.  He was standing in water at the edge of the river as the dog and I made our way through the park.  He didn’t move, and we weren’t noisy, we just quietly acknowledged each other’s existence. Every day after that would see him, always in the same place.  Sometimes he would take off with a couple of huge wing flaps, and trace the river.  But mostly he would stand there, a calm and certain presence.  I’d like to say he was my mother’s spirit, or at least a metaphor, but he really wasn’t.  He was just Heron, there every day, close to where I had stood so many summers with my Mother.  He was like the heron in my friend Robert Hamberger’s poem, reminding me to keep my feet on the ground (or maybe in the water), and to pay quiet attention to each small moment.

From Warpaint Angel. Published by Blackwater Press, 1997