36: Seeing things
The lone plane which had made its way to Shalisa Creek Bay through the snow storm it shouldnt have been in had not been the only traffic using Skys corridors of flight that day. Along the flyways of the British Columbia coast the waterfowl were heading north. Spring had brought them up from their southern wintering grounds to gather in well known staging areas, where they waited now in expectation for a break in the weather which would allow them to continue their journey to their northern nesting places.
The invisible tracks left on Sky by the great flights of birds which had put them there, the traditional ancient paths unchanged generation after generation, were leading them unerringly to their destinations and, for some species, it would take them beyond the Arctic circle.
Latter day birds of the mechanical type, sharing the same airspace as the great migrations along that route, were obliged to take extra precautions with their flight plans during this time, doing their best to avoid what they considered to be a serious hazard to navigation, and a damned nuisance.
Although the coastal flocks did not compare in size to the large movement of tens of thousands of waterfowl moving at one time which comprised inland migrations, they still maintained numbers to be reckoned with.
One large goose, or a swan weighing twenty-five or more pounds, flying at the speed of thirty to forty knots, plus following wind speed, could break the wing from a small plane heading in the opposite direction, intent on its own swift passage, or damage the engine of one much larger, with a collision causing disaster for all concernedtherefore the damned nuisance label. Add to this a snowstorm moving erratically, and the word danger would also come into play for both types of airborne user.
The self-propelled fliers certainly had substance, quantity, place, time and action to allow this categorisation and like the pilots, the birds too flew above, between or below layers of cloud. They could be found from ground level around staging areas to heights of two thousand feet for ducks, and beyond that to twelve thousand for the larger birdsflocks strung out for miles when entering or leaving the feeding grounds.
Pilots were alerted to these facts, but since the waterfowl had no such notifications warning them of the man made danger which interlocked with their flight plans, they pursued their progress north, innocently expecting only to reach that place without too much hindrance, and they were not as instinctual and brainless as some people have imagined. Weather was the greatest problem to be factored in. Wind would not be challenged if over ten knots against them, they knew the feel of a change which came with the passage of a ridge of high pressure, and contemporary flocks were aware and wary of a danger, other than natures whims, which was stationed along the way.
Shotguns held by hunters.
The stops at staging areas along their route, places of gathering and rich feeding long utilised by flocks of migrating birds, provided much needed food and rest. The voices of calling birds undulated and stretched and clamoured, both along the flight paths and even more so at the feeding grounds, a sound which had held the hearts of some human listeners spellbound in fascinated awe as they had heard this joyful sound of life on its way to renewal in Spring.
Some shore dwellers up and down the rugged coastlines had lived with that sound all of their lives, and knew that those before them had also responded with delighted wonder to the music of a skyful of birds following their own rhythm of existence along the wind and sea-swept coast which stretched north and north to become gathered into the vastness of snow and ice which held that place in eternal frigid bondage.
Only an imaginary, arbitrary line sighted by man, unseen by birds, delineated any territory of ownership there. For them that space belonged to all who could find a place and hold it for the time of nesting. This was their reason and purpose for the flight north.
The wait to continue this journey, forced by inclement weather, lengthened. The urgency of mating season increased. A sudden calm break in the pattern of unhelpful winds and heavy rain precipitated some flocks to leave in that window of quiet air, heading out before a storm which they, like a gambling pilot, decided they could outfly, but for them the odds were good. They were heading away from the rising south wind which might even be helpful to their passage as it would be behind them giving them lift and speed.
Ducks, geese, cranes and swans were on the move and, like the human pilots, they too were flying toward a planned and scheduled destinationanother staging ground to break their journey. They flew, aided by the south wind but pursued by snow, and they too knew the urgency of reaching safety before it caught them up.
Human beings had previously known nothing of the why or where of the birds except that, at certain times and places, they were found in enormous numbers in Spring and Falla bounty to be utilised by those who lived with the flow and ebb of Sea and Earth.
As the migrations of all waterfowl species became of economic and scientific interest to mankind, their paths and destinations were sought out, noted, tabulated and calculated as to time, region and quantity.
Once their nesting, resting and wintering places had been discovered the great flocks were observed and regarded as commodity and hazard, their own place in the calculations being assigned to time and diminishing numbers. Management of yet another natural phenomenon, harvesting of a resource, was heading yet another genus toward a path of planned profit, if not extinction.
The invisible path in Sky these free flying spirits knew so well had become their downfall.
When considered against the ancient scheme of lifes pattern for renewal, tracking of the birds was a relatively new innovation of difficulty added to their lives by the interference of mankind. From the moment they lifted off the southern wintering grounds hunters, as eager as the birds, waited all along the route when the waterfowl once again moved north.
Hunters who used this great migration for food or profit or an exercise of sport looked forward to the great seasonal flights. Those who took them gratefully and with thanks for sustenance, those who would sell their take, those who hunted for the thrill, all waited, and if one large white bird should be mistaken for anothersnow goose allowed, swan protectedmost unfortunate. Legally and illegally, the hunters waited.
That invisible path leading them north had now become a gauntlet to be run by the migrating flocks.
Among those heading north were long-necked, white-plumaged Trumpeter swans, few in numbers from the once large flocks which had travelled north and south in that unbroken circle of flight and return, and within those long lines of soaring birds was one who was trying with all his strength to keep up with the rest.
Somewhere on the journey north he had been hit with shot and it had knocked him sideways, sending him falling and plummeting earthward until he had recovered from the shock and regained his balance, reaching again for altitude. Having lost his place in the long flight-line of birds, he could no longer see his mate with the group. He flew on, but pain of body and spirit now travelled with him.
He was grateful for the rest and food when at last they reached the staging ground, but when it came time to lift with the others for the continued journey he found his left wing did not respond in its usual way. He struggled to rise, became airborne with a laboured flapping, often attempting to glide, falling well behind the flock on its way. He soon found that they were far ahead, but he continued, driven by his inborn right to reach his northern destination.
Alone, injured and in trouble, the snow overtook him, and at last he knew this flight north was not to be for him. No longer could he keep the injured wing moving. No longer could he fight his way through the buoyant element of air which had been his friend since birth. Staggering and falling and recovering again, he ended the struggle at last, gliding unsteadily down to Sea, hitting it awkwardly and heavily, rising up from rough water and fighting to keep his now almost useless wing from dragging him under.
He stretched his other out for balance, lifting through the heavy, increasing chop like a small boat in trouble while a wild, strong tide carried him he knew not where. He knew only that it led to shore and he held his balance, working with his strong webbed feet, and hung on until at last he was carried in, lifted on an incoming wave, and left lying on a sandy beach as the water retreateda place which was already almost covered with snow.
He lay for a moment, dazed and disoriented, then, knowing he must seek shelter, he rose to his feet and dragged himself up the beach to where a large, old gnarled log lay above the high water line. He crept behind it, pushed himself close under the curve of it for shelter and, turning his long neck back, buried his head beneath his good wing and gave himself over to exhausted sleep.
- - -
During that night those at the bay kept watch just as the villagers were doing. An old roof might collapse under the weight of snow. They climbed up and shovelled. Like the workboats at the fishermens wharf, the bay boats neededthe same care. In between helping the others, David checked his plane, clearing the heavy snow from wings and fuselage and making sure it was moored safely and not plunging about getting damaged, but this storm had its force mitigated by the cliffs of the sheltered bay and the aircraft rose and fell, weathering it like a seabird.
Sheltering in the lee of the barge, the boats also held their own against wind and tide, and the snow-clearing from their decks went on along with that of the roofers. Armand had offered to bunk the pilot down aboard METHUSELAH, but neither of them got much sleep until toward daybreak, when wind and snowfall diminished and became less of a threat. They went aboard at last, glad of a little rest, but still concerned about the weather.
When David awoke a little later from a half sleep the snow had slackened to a light fall but, watching the wind move the trees high up on the cliffs as a grey and white morning broke, he decided it was still more than he cared to argue with.
He was socked in.
It was an inconvenience in one way, because it meant hed have to phone and cancel an appointment which hed worked hard to set up for this day. He hadnt expected the weather to cross him up when hed taken his fare north, but in another way he was pleased. It gave him a legitimate excuse to stay at Shalisa Creek Bay whereas, if the weather had cleared, he would have been obliged to leave promptly in the early morning.
He looked out a port from his bunk aboard METHUSELAH, watching his plane still rising and falling on rough water until Armand, who was tossing in his own bunk, obviously awake, called
What do you think David? Is it finally letting up?
Seems so, he replied.
Do we need to shovel again?
Decks dont look too bad from here, returned David. In fact, not bad at all, then added with more of forward thinking than actuality, Maybe its warming up and itll turn to rain.
Is your plane okay?
Yuh. Looks good for awhile from where Im situated.
The devil with it then, replied Armand, Lets cosy down for a bit more sleep. Somebody else will shake us out if it gets bad again.
Hope everybody isnt thinking the same thing, laughed David and, settling deeper into his sleeping bag, he closed his eyes.
No snoring please, suggested Armand, drowsily playful.
Take that to yourself, grinned David, having heard some previously, as quiet settled down with them once more.
As they drank café au lait later, Armand remarked as he regarded the now light snowfall through a port,
How unfortunate that the weather did not break last night.
Oh, I dont mind so much, really, smiled David. I kind of like good excuses to get me out of work. Im really a Sogger at heart.
Do you plan to leave today if the weather should clear?
Like I said, plans dont seem to mesh for me but, since time is limited, maybe Id better make some decisions.
I hope youre not short of fuel. The village probably is tooyour kind at least.
Think Id better skip the village, thanks just the same. One time I was there I had to dodge the cops on crutches and Im not sure if theyre still looking for me or not. Last time seemed safe enough though.
Armand started laughing.
Harry has told me of that escapade. He thought it was great fun.
He would, never having been incarcerated himself. I now try hard to steer clear of that pleasure. May I have another cup of your good coffee? Its great stuff.
My weakness, Armand told him. Its my custom. It comes with me from so far back that I am a grouch in the morning if I cant have café au lait. It took my wife a long time to get used to that idea.
Wives take a lot of persuasion, do they? asked David with smiling sympathy.
Mine certainly does, laughed Armand
Although he had laughed the doctor had accompanied his remark with a wry face, and the pause which followed made David feel that wives were not a good topic of conversation, especially since Armand then referred to a totally different subjectweather being a universal one.
Its difficult to wait for Spring when she is being so reluctant. I go for a morning wake up swim here when the water is ready. Shiro must have Viking in him. He goes for a swim anyway, Spring or no. It was impossible when I was berthed at the village wharf. The water is much too polluted there.
I often look at the water around my little floating office back in the city and wish I could do that too, David told him. Wouldnt dare. Probably die shortly thereafter from hideous unknown causes. If this were summer I think a morning swim would be great and thenId loaf on the beach and listen to Tide telling tales and thenmaybe lunch? Getting waited on this way is a working mans dream. Then maybe after that Id try sneaking off to the meadow with my flute. Its not that I dont want to share, its just that sometimes a musician has to be alone to keep it all together.
Sounds delightful, and solitary time is good, returned Armand. Too much though, is too much. It turns into loneliness.
David thought there was a certain amount of wistfulness in the words.
Yuh, people need each other sometimes, he agreed, And since this isnt summer, Ill enjoy whats at hand.
I have fallen into the habit of thinking, Armand told him, Since I have been here in the bay, some good faery must have brought me to this place. It seems so wonderfully otherleft to itself by the rest of the world.
There are still places along the coast like this, David told him. Fortunately not too many people want to go there and thats why theyre still other. Not enough of the so-called good life facilities available, so they still retain their old style flavour. When I get a chance to take a fare to one of those places I sometimes hang around for a day or two pretending Im one of them and dont have anything else to do. Its like a paid holiday. Thats what I like about the bay here. Its different. I keep trying to find excuses to come herelike yesterday.
That was a very fine excuse, agreed Armand, laughing softly. But one which I wouldnt use too often. Do you know, apart from my coffee routine, theres another custom here in Shalisa Creek Bay on days such as this. Everyone, sooner or later, congregates around that massive, cheerful fireplace which you so kindly built for us in that fascinating miniature castle which is also of your making. The excuse is that it saves everyone from carrying wood for their own stoves, but everyone carries wood for the big fireplace quite willingly.
Your barge confection has added immensely to the other world effect here. Sometimes we all have speculated, when we sit lazing around in the evening aboard LEGER DE MAIN trying to be children again, just what you had in mind when you built it. The real children tell me youre a dragon and a pirate captain, and Rose has mentioned in passing that youre a magician and that the music from your flute gives forth beautiful sounds which put people under a spell, and that is why the barge is so captivating and has such an intriguing name.
Actually, you got most of it right, the unqualified architect of the subject in question told him with a grin. I just got carried away with memories of bewitching castles and faeries and pirates and such from my childhood reading and imaginings and didnt know when to quit.
How fortunate for us, Armand told him.
Never did shake those dreams offand its nice to know that my music is so appreciated.
Everything isdreams, music, yourselfvery much so. Well go aboard LEGER DE MAIN after weve enjoyed our breakfast here. We must share your company while we have it. I should tell you that the twins and I have often envisioned chests of jewels, double looneys and precious things, and rare ingredients for the practice of turning dirt into gold, along with ancient manuscripts for the instruction of how to perform wizardry and spells. We speculate that there is a secret passageway aboard the barge, wondering where it might be, wishing we could find the necessary incantations and recipes hidden away somewhere in the submerged bowels of this floating castle of yours which would allow us all to become fabulously rich and useless, but we have never found any trace of such a route, so I am still just useless.
Youve been searching have you? enquired David lightly.
Of course, smiled Armand. Its such a delightful flight of fancy. Fitz laughs at us and says the only evidence which might back up our outrageous ideas is a small suggestion of such a thing which he found in the floor of what was once your office. Is that place the key to such a route?
The two looked at each other in amusement until David, willing to keep his very practical small suggestion in the realm of imagination, told him laughingly,
Ill never tell.
Not even if we hold you hostage and feed you only breakfast biscuits and beer, and question you about this every day?
Lucky mewhat a way to be held hostage!
I shouldnt have thought so, returned Armand.
I could make up all sorts of tales for the rest of my life while all of you tried to figure out if any of them were true and Id never get into trouble over it. As for the hostage dietbring em on if its your biscuits and Bettinas beer.
Hah! exclaimed Armand. There is no getting at this man. He turns misfortune into fun.
Well, I try, David told him, But there have been times when I wasnt exactly laughing. Anyway, Ill enjoy my coffee and biscuits now and expect beer after. You make great food.
Sometimes, Armand told him, I think I should have studied the art of cookery instead of medicine. I love good food. Dont mistake my wordshelping people is a fine thing, but it leaves not much to the imagination. With food I can create as you did with your castle, except my creations disappear quickly and I have to begin all over again.
Mine almost did that too, David reminded him. I tried my hand at cooking back when I was a teenager. Wasnt exactly haute cuisine, but I sure had fun and people actually ate my fabrications. I used that experience later here on the barge. Knew how to get the most out of stuff that was available, inexpensive, full of everything good for people and even found a chef to cook it that way. Thats what good food should be. Fresh plain stuff put together with knowledge and imagination and not too much fuss and frills, cooked right and served with class, just like youre doing here. I dont like to be given a plateful of unrecognisable matter which has been overworked for effect and covered with sauce intended to hide the chefs blunders.
I had no idea you were into the culinary arts, said Armand, surprised.
Oh yeah. Dishwashing too. I got the job in deep desperation and the guy who runs the place is still bossing me. Gives me all sorts of friendly advice and reproofs and pushes me around, and not just about food either. Yevys quite a guy.
It would seem we have the makings of a fine business here in paradise if we should be so foolish as to work ever again, laughed Armand. As well as myself, Bettina and Tashakawa and Dancing Water are superb in that field, and everyone else here would certainly eat the product of this labour.
Yeah, but will they payand you forgot Rose, David reminded him.
Ah, the flower in the sun, smiled Armand. I do believe that she has neglected the art of palatable food. She eats basicsmuch of it uncooked.
Ohwell, David excused her, I think fresh food is some of the best actually, just as it comes from the garden, and she has other skills, such as the damned good coffee she made for our beach party. Then, tongue-in-cheek, he added with a grin, And Ive seen her wash dishes.
A useful skill indeed, that last, agreed Armand enthusiastically. We cook, she washes.
I could sure show her how, David informed him. And yeah, thank youmore of your good coffee and biscuits. You have to keep up your end of the bargain if youre going to hold me hostage, or Ill have my lawyer file a case of inhumanity to shipwrecked pilots against you.
As a doctor, I must inform you that you have made a bad bargain. This food wont keep you alive and well for too long.
Ill take my chances for a couple of days, came the smiling response. Pass the butter please.
- - -
Snowfall dwindled to insignificance shortly after a lingering lunch had been finished aboard the barge. David, looking out at the appearance of the landscape which had been so changed by the weather, remarked,
This is really something. Ive never seen the bay under snow. Good thing I was such a fool yesterday or I probably never would have.
Well I hope you dont get to see it like this again too soon, Rose told him with a laugh. Its unusual to have so much snow at this time of year, and it came so quickly I dont think you should blame yourself entirely. We got caught out too. Never expected this.
Well maybe its kind of a lot but weve sure been having a blast, Morgan pointed out.
From his youthful point of view, he thought that staying up late to help remove snow from roofs and keeping ELFINSHOE cleared off had been a really great, enjoyable experience, so he added,
Im going out and have some more fun before it all disappears. Anybody else coming?
Heron walked quickly over to Morgan, giving his silent consent.
We like it! agreed the twins together. Were coming.
Me too, said Isabel. Coming Therése? Im sure Uncle Twimby will want to come along.
Count me in, came from David promptly.
Okay, smiled Rose in agreement, I have to admit its fun when were not trying to avoid disaster.
Harry and I, Bettina informed them before they were invited, Have seen enough of that up north to last us the rest of our lives. Were going to have a nap and catch up on our sleep.
Were with you, yawned Shiro, exchanging glances with Tashakawa. I cant remember working this hard since we came here.
It is good for your health to get out in the fresh air and nice crisp snow, Armand told them in grave, overly professional tones, then added in his normal voice, So Ive been told all these years.
Go throw yourself in it then, laughed Fitz. I hate the stuff. Im staying here by the fire.
I also would not like to see such a fine fire sit without company, was Dancing Waters excuse. We will be able to admire the snow from behind the windows here while enjoying the company of this warm friend.
Thus divided, the nays headed for naps and comfort by the fireplace, and the yeas went outside for fun and good health, as Rose told Armand,
Pneumonia must have another cause, apart from a person being cold and getting wet feet from running around in snow with inadequate clothing.
The formula for good health I quoted has no guarantees as to efficacy, laughed he as they were putting on their jackets before going out. It varies from person to person.
What youre saying is, its useless information, translated David.
Or no information at all, added Rose.
Medicine is a mysterious and inexact science, Armand grinned, But I for one wouldnt be without it. Im sure anyone with a hot appendix or a broken arm would probably agree.
I agree, agreed Rose and David together as they went outside.
Footprints of wild residents were everywhere. Ravens three-pronged landing on the garden compost heap, now well covered with snow, was visible to all, and the little Juncos and ground birds left their more fragile marks of identification on top of the drifts, along with their delicate, sweeping wingtip imprint when they landed or lifted off as they hunted for food. Deers trailing, split-hooved passage was plain to see, as was that of Raccoons with its clearly delineated, delicate-fingered front paws and long back feet.
Lets go see where this track leads, shouted Heron, looking at a long line of deep footprints set there by a traveller who had no snowshoes. Its heading down to the beach.
Maybe they have their house down there, suggested Bernice, as all the youngsters went quickly to follow along the path left by a raccoon while the adults followed at a more leisurely pace.
More likely the poor things hungry, was Roses sympathetic response, And has decided theres more to be had by the water than trying to dig something up around here.
Sure did dump on us, observed David. Maybe the whole thing will clear up tonight and I can leave in the morningnot that I want to, but Ive got things on hold back there.
You must think of slowing down before you stress yourself into a heart attack, laughed Armand, half seriously. Statistics say this is happening to those of a much younger age than before. This fast, fast, fast, being constantly on the run is not a good thing for the constitution. After all, were only humannot revved up machines.
Scaring the hell out of me isnt going to help, grinned David. I got enough of that yesterdayand maybe youd better heed some of your own counsel. If you dont quit lecturing me youre liable to find you own health suffering. This stuff makes awfully good snowballs, which we proved yesterday, and you were running pretty fast then.
The tracking scouts, now down on the beach, found that the footprints made a sudden and abrupt right-angled turn close by a snow-covered log, and they went over to see whether it led up into the bushes or was just a detour around this obstruction to the further progress of the traveller whose footprints they were following.
As they approached the mounded snowit moved!
Startled, the six stopped in their own tracks and watched as a long white neck tipped with a black beak reared itself up out of the snow.
Its a sea monster, whispered Bernice with frightened awe as the swan staggered to its feet, shedding snow and flapping its good wing.
It must have got washed up from way deep down, surmised Walter, also in a whisper.
Morgan, who was out front, stood quite still, transfixed and fascinated while Heron and Isabel came up beside him, as Therése backed off a little and the twins fled.
Sudden shouts of Run!Run!, from the beach got the immediate attention of the adults.
Geeze! More stress, said David with a surprised laugh as the twins came tearing. Now what?
Theres a sea monster down there! declared Bernice running up to them.
Its a funny thing with a big long white neck, was Walters description.
An wings an a black beak like a gargle, added Bernice.
Its scary! they both declared together.
Gargle? came the amused question from Armand.
Gargoyle maybe? suggested David.
Gryphon? was Roses interpretation, and then came her very practical solution to the word problem. Maybe wed better just go and have a look, and she started them toward the beach.
The four youngsters still there watching as this unidentified presence rising up revealed more of itself, finally had it given an actuality by Heron who told them with sudden conviction,
Its a swanand its hurt.
Ohpoor thingwed better help it, was Theréses immediate response, but as she started toward log and swan there was a shout from Rose.
Hey! Dont go near that. One strike from a wing can break your arm if it gets defensive. Stay back from it.
Theyre powerful birds, David backed her up. Heavy and fast. Hit one of those things in the air and youre in trouble.
To say nothing of its problems at that moment, was Armands opinion, giving his soft laugh as he continued, And in all my career I have to say , that I have never seen a longer, larger, livelier d... .
Armand! broke in Rose quickly in a low voice, Dont say that in front of the children!
The two men, surprised, looked at each other and broke into hilarious laughter until Armand told her,
I wasnt gong to say that! I was going to say ducks neckand you seem to have the largest, liveliest imagination around here. I thought that belonged to David.
Rose, laughing too now, returned,
It does. Its just that its infectious.
I dont have a pill for that, Armand told her, Or I would take it myself. He has infected all of us.
You cant quarantine me either, declared David in his own defence. Im at liberty to go where I want. The Law said so.
The children, too busy discussing the swan, werent listening to the adult conversation. Heron turned to them as they came up, anxiously reiterating,
Its hurt. What can we do for it Uncle Doc?
Looking at the bird, which was standing unsteadily now, head up, regarding this formidable array which had so suddenly appeared to rouse it from its torpor, Armand said as he considered thoughtfully,
Im not a veterinarian, but I would say that from the look of it, there is a badly injured wing, and very likely to go along with it, an infectionDavid not to blame. It must be very sick indeed to stay there while threatened by us this way since it hasnt even attempted to make a break for it.
I dont know about that, Rose told them. It looks like a Trumpeter and theyre pretty brave and fearless when theyre up against it.
We have to help it, repeated Therése.
I think, Morgan put in, If we get a blanket or something and throw over it and wrap it in that, it will quiet down because then itll be in the dark and maybe it wont rumble around too much and we can hold its wings still with the blanket around it. Isabel and I did that once a long time ago with a pheasant we found hurt. Then we can take it up to the barge or somewhere.
This is no pheasant, cautioned David. Probably weighs twenty-five pounds or more and knows how to use every one of them to advantage.
But if you carry it upside down by the legs it seems to be a good thing. Lying a bird on its back upside down seems to soothe it, Isabel told them earnestly.
You certainly seem to know more about this than I do, observed Armand.
Dad taught us, Morgan told them. He likes animals.
No one questioned as to which Dad that might have been.
The swan, having found itself in no immediate danger, weak, hungry and in pain, sank back down again, neck still straight up and eyes observing everything.
I think you young people have a good solution, agreed Rose. Ill go get a blanket.
I see this makes me Bird Doctor, laughed Armand. But Im afraid, young people, that I can promise nothing. Wild creatures are fragile and easily frightened to death.
From what Ive heard, were the ones who should be scared, was Davids opinion as Rose went quickly away on her errand. What was that she said about These fellows are pretty brave and fearless when theyre up against it?! Thatll take the two of us to lug this guy up to the barge. By the feet?!
Im willing, how about you? asked Armand.
Was there ever any doubt? grinned David. You take left, Ill take right. If we cant handle a swan between the two of us wed better opt for rocking chairs. Hey crew, lets just try to make sure the patient doesnt make a run for it. Hes looking a bit nervous since our surgeon here has let it be known hes not certified as to competence where critters are concerned.
My credentials are impeccable, you critter, Armand reprimanded him, reminding David of his own status in the kingdoms of flora and fauna.
Uncle Doc can do it, Morgan broke into the exchange of friendly raillery.
Anyway, continued the doctor, He has not much choice at the moment. Then he added, looking at David, Also, you two brave flyboys could maybe start comparing notes on landing techniques as we proceed. He seems to need a couple of lessons, and maybe you could discuss meteorology with him, especially about staying away from snowstorms.
He probably knows more about it than I do, laughed David. He didnt have anyone standing by to help him when he made his emergency landingat least I think its a he from the size of it. Does he get rum or a bump on the head to put him to sleep?
I am just now considering how much anaesthesia and of what kind, returned Armand. Would you like to be my experimental animal to make sure it is not too hefty a dose?
Ill try the rum, agreed David, then made the conditional addendum, But stow the bump.
How can science advance with such an unwilling subject, sighed Armand. Its amazing that weve progressed as far as we have.
Here comes Rose, observed David. Lets see if our muscles are as good as our mouths.
- - -
There was every bit as much excitement in the big casino room aboard the barge as there might have been in the waiting room of a large hospital when Armand finally gave a last examination to his supine patient and came out of the former office to face the waiting-room crowd.
I must thank all my assistants, ambulance crew, operating room staff, back-up surgeon Morgan, observers... .
Oh for goodness sake Armand, laughed Rose breaking into the jesting little speech, Stop the suspense and just tell us if hes going to recover or not.
Laughing, the doctor who had become an unlicensed veterinarian assured everyone that the swanwhich, after much discussion had been positively identified as a Trumpeter because its beak was black and its legs were putty coloured and not black like a Whistlerwould very likely survive.
To the accompaniment of Oh goodies and Wowsies and Hey greats he told them,
There were a couple of superficial wounds from pellets, but the real problem is those which got his wing. It has been damaged considerably and I am not sure if our friend will fly as he used to, but some quiet healing time along with antibiotics and hell be sticking his long neck into things again, Im sure.
Guess he was on his Spring migration, surmised David. We get notifications of their movements every Spring and Fall.
I wonder if he got separated from his mate along the way, said Rose reflectively. Swans mate for life and sometimes wont pair again even after one is gone.
Its true that one mans dinner is likely someone elses misfortune, remarked Armand.
Faithful forever and hell never love againkind of wonderful but a bit sad, mused David. I think Nature goofed. Love that pure ought to be recycled to give joy to another partner whod appreciate it. It should be generous enough to handle more than one circuit if circumstance dictates, before the circle closes for good. Im not quite sure what Mom Nature had in mind, unless its that old saw about loving not wisely but too well. Faithful to the end, okay, but after that... .
David became aware of Roses eyes on him, and he wasnt quite sure what he saw there, but he definitely felt that his subject matter and the way he was handling it was somehow tramping on her toes, so he broke off and laughed saying,
Agh, the hell with the philosophy. Great job Armand.
The others joined in on that assessment and Armand, feeling pleased that his skills had taken bird and himself successfully through the surgery, told them,
Now we must consider what and how to feed him. Anybody know?
This definitely brought the conversation to a halt for a few thoughtful moments until Dancing Water offered,
I remember that our guest feeds on bottom plants in places such as ponds and swamps and even in the deeper water along the margins of lakes, where his graceful long neck is so useful. He eats all sorts of plants and weeds there, and also roots and stems of others from wetlands as well, shovelling and pulling them up with his strong beak. We have these places of food for him. I believe if we take a large bucket filled with water, and all work hard to supply this little artificial pond with plants we gather, our friend will be very happy.
Dancing Water not only knows how to provide fine food for people but for all creatures it seems, smiled Armand. We can certainly do this until our guest is able to fend for himself, but he must be confined for a time, so someone is going to have to construct a containment of some sort, and rather quickly. Lets all go build a playpen for him before he wakes up and decides our recovery room is not to his liking.
- - -
Toward the end of the day, Weather, having worn itself out with its rampage, began to think of calming down for the night. Tide was still restless, but had stopped throwing soggers around and charging against Beach, and Wind was definitely tired of working so hard to disperse Snow. Something like an approach to neutrality between forces was descending on Bay along with the darkness of evening.
LEGER DE MAIN, feeling honoured to be hosting the injured swan aboard, was discussing it with the boats nearby, and the slap of Tide against their hulls came softly as all the residents of the bay congregated in the big room warmed by the stone fireplace, just as Armand had described it earlier to the builder of it.
Every so often someone would take a look into the former office where the swan was resting in a fenced-in area which was covered with a worn tarp and strewn with old corn stalks the children had salvaged from beside the compost heap. This space allowed freedom of movement but not too much of it. The big bird was still very quiet, under the influence of Armands ministrations.
Everyone was busy with a pile of rope, varying in size and type, which was being readied for the annual Spring refit of the boats. They were splicing in eyes, whipping ends, measuring lengths and keeping the results sorted as to which boat what lines belonged to.
David had been working with them until he had gone to make more coffee and had given everyone who wanted it a refill. After that he had commenced a slow pace in front of the windows, mug in hand.
As she worked with some mending she was doing, Dancing Water took note of things as David paced slowly back and forth in front of the new windows which had been installed in the Fall, as he contemplated the bad weather they kept out. She watched this man from the city as he occasionally turned his eyes away from the outside and rested his gaze on Rose.
<He is an amiable cougar, without a den of his own, always restless, always moving. Even here at Shalisa Creek Bay, when he seems to be at ease, I have seen him leaning on the stern railing of his TJUTELA, not seeing the quiet water but with his vision within directed across Bay toward that distant place from which he comes, or he will arrive on his unbending wings, swoop down, be happy for a day, and return to his busy world.
<It is an odd life he leads, loving both this place and that other. Here is such a peaceful place to be, with many friends. He has provided this fine house which seems so full of good spirits and which cares for everyone, although he did not build it for that purpose, but it has become so. He has often expressed the wish to be here free of care, but still he must return to his busy life.
<There he has obligations, and friends whose company he enjoys, some for whom he provides work, and there he has a grandmother. As well as having much love for her it is his duty to care for her which he seems to do so well, and she for him. Care for the elders is a kind and generous return from those who have themselves been cared for in their young days. So it will be with Heron when he is a tall strong man if I should still be here, whether it be city or elsewhere.
<I do not like city. Going with family and Father on his many visits as Leader to make representations before Authority I found it empty and devoid of the good things of Earth, Sky and Sea.
<There, Earth has been turned into stone for cars to use, and buildings there seem to imprison people rather than welcome and comfort them. Sky can only be seen by tilting the head far back and trying to catch a glimpse of Sun or Cloud, and Moon with his attendant Stars has been paled out of existence by bright and garish artificial lights.
<The inhabitants of that place do not seem to notice this lack of Skys beauty. They also seem to have turned their backs on Sea, leaving it to shipping, or using it only for fun. They attempt to curb its happy laughter with seawalls and breakwaters. I have seen Sea become angry with these, trying to remove such insults to his rule, and often succeeding.
<The few beaches set aside for people are scraped often with machines in an attempt to remove the castoffs and trash of uncaring people who use them. Those shores are now all dead. The teeming sea creatures such as we have here are all gone, the shore bereft of its old natural life. Only seagulls remain to cry of the loss and to search for food in other placesgarbage dumps, land fills. It is sad.>
The children sitting in a group together, were busy practising the tying of knots using pieces of old line which the men had rejected as now useless for the boats.
Dancing Water listened as an argument started over how to tie one particular knot.
Not that way dummy, she heard Isabels impatient voice, accompanied with laughter, as Morgans efforts were corrected by his sister. Cant you learn anything?
Huh! You think youre so smart, came the retort. Well maybe if you were left--handed you wouldnt find it so easy either.
Well thats a poor excuse, returned his sister scornfully. It doesnt matter what handed you are. You have to use both of them anyway so you might as well do it right.
I can do it, piped up Walter, innocently proud.
Me too, added Bernice. I used both hands.
Yeah well, Im just the family idiot, came Morgans reply of frustration.
Dancing Water set aside her work, rose and walked over to the children.
Is it that we are all learning well? she smiled.
Oh sure, Morgan told her in disgruntled tones.
Some things, Dancing Water told them, Take much time to learn, but if one tries over and over it becomes easy after all. Such pathways of the mind are often not too clearly seen at first but then it becomes a joy to know them.
There was a silence from the six children, and then Therése asked,
What do you mean, Grandmother Dancing Water?
It is not always skill with hands which is so important. What one does with heart stands above all other accomplishments. To have a generous, constant and steadfast heart also takes time but this is not always seen. For some it comes easily, for others not so fast, and for some, not at all.
Looking at the puzzled faces before her she suggested, as she sat down beside them,
There is an old tale which perhaps might help.
The group was now all quiet attention, and using this opening Dancing Water began another of her stories. There had been many of them since she had come, and they knew it would begin withIn the old days and usually end withit is said, so they waited until she settled her skirt and folded her hands in her usual way and then began,
In the old days a Flower came into being, borne by Breeze from no one knows where, and it grows beside the paths all of who walk that way in the place where they have home. Here would these flowers flourish, but they needed to be looked upon by the eyes of those able to see that which is not visible to ordinary sight, and only then would they bloom.
They themselves had to work hard for flowering, but in twos and in groups together these plants would grow, making their own path within the warm darkness of Earth, their roots intertwining and knotting together so that a strong bond between them was made which could not be pulled apart. Each would hold the other firm in place to withstand any weather or misfortune, and if Sun should shine just so, Rain be not too much and Frost not too unkind, they would spread, smiling to each other and giving encouragement, growing strong and each helping the other to keep its place with their thick mat of mingled roots.
It would sometimes take a long time before beautiful flowers might be seen, because it was necessary that the roots be deep, and often there was not enough water, or earth might be stony and roots had to work hard to grow. Then the plants would share each with the other until things became better.
At last, if all went well through the difficulties of drought and storm, each plant would form buds and they would wait with hope until the eyes of those who stood at the beginning of the path might open these flowers where they grew along its length. If the eyes were proud or angry or uncaring or selfish the plants would turn away in sadness to be looked upon so and no flowers would shine forth and the unseeing eyes would turn away from a path seemingly unlit with gorgeous flowers they wanted displayed for themselves alonea path which as they tried to see farther along its length seemed to grow darker and more difficult as it went. This they did not wish to be bothered with, for other more transient flowers grew along other more accessible pathsbut if the eyes which looked at the thick green growth were kind and gentle, generous and understanding and open, then such a thing took place as is magical indeed.
The plants would touch each other and become as one, just as their roots had been joined below, and a flowering would unfold, with many blossoms opening having such a beauty and fragrance that those with the kind and caring eyes who beheld them came as though under a powerful spell from a good Spirit. Their thoughts and their memories were joined together from that time on, and they would know that this plant with its magical flowers would be a treasure they would share forever, for while those people lived, so also lived the flowers shedding beauty and fragrance around them.
However, sometimes a great misfortune would befall a pair of plants and one would be cut off at the root as it grew reaching out for another, which left the others spirit almost dead and unable to flower further, but it is said that even then the lone plant waits, and sometimes in later Springs, if another should be brought by Breeze to rest beside it and grow, the one so injured might put forth more green shoots and they two may intertwine, and the Flowers will bloom once more for those with eyes which are able to see their beauty and worth.
Many other plants have tried to copy the ones brought by Breeze but they have withered and died, for these rogue roots wish to have the earth all to themselves and will not share and will choke out any others which come near, even the fine willing plants, or their roots will touch the other too lightly at a shallow level, expecting to be held firmly without adding strength of its own, uncaring for the other but only for self. Only flowers of those plants whose roots are deeply intertwined last and last, each sharing and giving to the other of the strength and kindness it holds for the eyes of those who see.
Many pass by this wealth of green, never knowing of its bloom, for they have not the eyes to see. Those who are fortunate to behold its flowers, they themselves help it to grow. This flowering could not happen without the strong hidden ties which form unseen and unnoticed in rich earth. It is well if we, walking along our pleasant path, look beyond what is so very visible to our outward eyes, and look within, for there is the source of the constant flowers, and not to see them is sad indeed.
It is not as the beauty of birdsong, or as the flowering of fruit trees which we hear and see only in the Spring and which we must enjoy at that time only because it is gone so soon. No, for those who have seen this beautiful blossoming it is lasting and faithful throughout the years and while those who have found the spirit of these hold it close these flowers are always there to be seen.
All those who are so touched by this plant carry within themselves a small piece of these to bloom always. Such flowers keep families together, and friends who will always care and remember each other, even though they are far apart. Those who have seen them will not be separated, one from the other, for distance does not stop the plants from blooming before the eyes of those who see.
Such bonds are strong and difficult to be broken. In this way does our visitor the swan remember his mate who is not here with him now. Let us hope he will soon be able to continue his journey north along his unmarked path in the sky to join her and, should she not be there, it may be that although this plant of his own spirit has been cut off at the root another may come who will help him once again to see the beautiful flowers.
So it is said of such blossoms, they are of the free, faithful, constant plant, giving much encouragement and aiding the spirits of those who behold them, even in difficult times. Thus it is with families, with brothers and sisters, with friend to friend and those who love well. These are the ones who behold the flowers of trust and unselfishness which, though unseen by ordinary eyes, are presented to those who know the worth of such blossoms of the heart.
As she finished her story Dancing Water became aware that a quietness had settled in the warm room where everyone was gathered. As she looked around she saw that some hands had stopped to rest from their work while their owners had listened, and there was no longer the sound of footsteps by the window. She was a little surprised at the attention the adults had given to the story she had told the children.
<On the face of Fitz, the sea wanderer, there is something of happy thought. The good doctor is leaning back with closed eyes. He thinks perhaps of his Flower who has left. Shiro has his gaze on Tashakawa, and both Harry and Bettina are smiling as they work. The young cougar has stopped his pacing to lean on the bar with his eyes on the sunshine rose who, although she does not look at him, knows that this is so. Here are the twins on either side of Heron, and the others have listened carefully. It is good that my small stories seem to be so well taken.>
Ah, she said. Now the small ones are tired. Put away the rope safely for the next time of learning and go now for sleep. Take care when you light the stoves that all is safe before you put out the lamps and go to bed.
Morgans always careful, Isabel assured her. Hes good at checking things.
<It is good to hear the sister praise the brother now, for usually they make fun of each other, as though afraid to have their fondness for family members show and the brother seems often to feel rejected. Now, perhaps, they see the flowers which are there and will treasure them more closely and be more aware of the happiness they give and possess. It is well that people should remember in their busy days to care for that which is more important than the tying of knots in a piece of rope.>
As the youngsters left Fitz suggested,
Think its time for everybody to pack it in. We can finish this tomorrow. Theres still quite a lot to be done and weve already had a busy day.
At those words, Armand set down the work he had been doing, got up and gave David a friendly pat on the shoulder, prompting the pilot to say,
YuhI have to get up early to see if the weathers good andI dont know what Armands excuse is but hes got me by the arm. Night everybody. Were off to sleep.
I dont need an excuse, laughed Armand. I want some sleep before I have to get up and attend our patient in the next room. Hell be fine until morning, when hell probably wake up making a terrible row about lousy room service.
The rope work was left to its own devices as the gathering broke up with laughter.
- - -
Morning sky was clear and bright. Shalisa Creek Bay shone and glistened as pendant drops of melting snow clung to leaf tips, and hung to drip from eaves, LEGER DE MAIN, and the other cluster of boats. The earth breathed fresh cool air free from dust, and warmth was once more returning. Snow had changed to rain overnight and had already cleared much of the whiteness away. Everyone was glad of that, particularly David, for his plane was now washed clear of ice and snow and since the rain was now minimal it meant he was free to fly without problems. Weather reports forecasted clearing. He took that information with a bit of salutary salt, having swallowed an earlier piece with a complete lack of seasoning.
Before he left the barge Dancing Water overheard the conversation David and Rose were having. She tried to tell herself that she really wasnt eavesdropping, but just happened to be in close proximity to the two, and she excused herself with the thought that after all, others also could hear if they chosealthough they were not quite so close.
<If I get up and walk away they will notice and become self-conscious which may make them feel constrained as to what they say. I will stay quietly here.>
Ive been wondering, David was asking almost hesitantly, Theres a benefit symphony coming up in a month or so, one of Grams biggies andI was wondering if youd like to come to it with me. How about it?
Caught totally by surprise, Rose automatically used a mechanism of delay which she had so often done in her practice when unexpected circumstances arose, so she replied,
Ohsounds great. Its justmaybe I should wait until I know whats happening around that time. Its a bit in the future.
Sensing her own hesitance, David backed off with,
Hey, sure. Sorry. I forgot. I keep thinking you have nothing to do but sit around and enjoy yourself here because thats what I do when I come butyeah, I can ask you again when it gets a bit closer.
Would you? Im still arguing with Authority over a few things and I never know when I may have to run off somewhere to argue it.
Sure thing. Ill ask you again when it gets a bit closer to the event, he repeated, feeling a little pushed away.
He had no way of knowing that Rose was now wishing her automatic defences had not kicked in so quickly. As she thought of it she wished she had said yes, but now she felt she could hardly do an about face and agree. She settled for telling herself that now shed been asked she certainly would keep it in mind.
Having said his goodbyes David walked to his plane, breathing in the freshness of the morning. Removing the covers and checking and readying things for take-off, he felt something close to regret at leaving this time.
<Sweet air. Sweet land. Fresh calm sea. Too bad I have to go, but I dont have any more time to spend here. Spend. Disturbing thought, that a man has to mete out his life as though it were cents and dollars, lavished one place, pinched another. The return value for the poor investment I make here goes far beyond that of the time I put in with some people in other places.>
As he unfastened the mooring line, stepped onto the float and pushed the plane away from the wharf with his foot, he told himself he had no choice right then. He settled himself in his seat, waved at those on the wharf and shore, started the engine and taxied into the wind.
As the plane lifted, trailing water from its floats, Rose said to Dancing Water, who stood beside her,
You heard didnt you.
Yes, came the frank admission.
You think Im too distant and cold with him dont you.
The older woman waited, watching the plane dip its wings, first starboard and then port in a salute of au revoir, before she replied,
The way of the Shalisa is gentleness.
They stood watching the disappearing aircraft and Rose sighed.
There are reasons why I withhold such gentleness. Is it possible for the eyes which have once seen to truly see again? Can the plant which has been cut off flourish so well once more or will the flower offered the other be of a paler colour, or smaller and less fragrant? Can it ever bloom true red once more? Is it fair to offer only half of the roots which should be there?
<Ah, now we come to what is the problem. She thinks of the Chanting Breeze who is gone before with the Old Ones.>
It is said that the roots grow again, once more to intertwine and hold firm, Dancing Water told her. You have no doubt heard of pink, young daughter? Your own name is of the wild, blushed rose. Would you have all flowers the same colour? And if the blossom should be blue as the camas, purple as the violet, orange and spotted as the tiger-lily, yellow as the broom or all of these as the tiny, gorgeous calypso orchid, is it any less beautiful? The fragrance, though different, is just as heady. Size is governed by the eyes which see. If they are sad small eyes, what then? They take from the full beauty of the world before them.
No blossom of the constant plant is small or pale. Such blossoms are not from these. The story does not speak of colour nor of size, but of love. If this is not present, who can speak of flowers but as things only, given and taken and cast away. Time must heal the cut plant or it withers and dies without another Spring, and there has been much time. Sometimes rough pruning invigorates rather than stunting. There is no halfway. Thin roots will not twine.
Once again there was silence between them until Rose returned,
What if the places from which the two flowers come are too different, even though the roots have intertwined unseen until the green shoots appear and speak to each other? Close they may be but infinitely varied in their ways.
There is but one source, replied Dancing Water, And these variations enhance rather than impede. If such differences come between, then the roots have not truly met and held. Doubt has no place with constancy.
You speak of trust and believing in another.
You are a leader with heavy duties. He is a man with much responsibility. Surely two such strong and wise people know how to conduct themselves, and if strength is the barrier then wisdom must prevail to show that such strength knotted together becomes more strong than twice its original when standing alone. Earth has help from many friends here. Mountains have been softened with snow. Sea must have sand or the rocks turn him away. As the great bird knows its path through endless unmarked skies, so this mans heart led him to a place where he knew help and safety and constancy would be found.
At this, Rose laughed saying,
Dancing Water, he simply needed a place to set his plane down before a storm caught him. You make too much of this.
They watched as the plane became small in the sky, then Dancing Water said,
There was also the village to which he might have gone for shelter but it was to here he came. It was not only of himself he thought, once here. It was help to others he gave. That of which he said when speaking of the swan is also the way of constancy among ourselves. He also knows that way. With such steadfastness he cares for his grandmother. He himself has been disappointed, but I believe his spirit still hopes. Such a quality shines as the flowers along that way, bright and welcoming and reliable as the seasons.
There are others who will quickly give false buds as they already have. These are the rogue plants, pretenders, who wish only their own space in which to be seen and they can cheat and dazzle eyes of honesty. He is surrounded by these, each one seeking such as he, and each will take and choke this fine plant if he should be deceived into accepting.
Ill think about what you say, returned Rose, reluctant to get too much further into the subject because of her own uncertainty.
As you will, returned the older woman as she turned to walk away, then turned back, adding gently,
Will you injure the spirit of the roots once more? It is not meant for two to stand in the place beyond, which is meant only for one. This bay is fortunate to shelter such people as the flowers of which I speak. I had thought that you and he were also of them. Would you have the strong one turn from you, standing alone while you do also? Perhaps you have practised too long your pondering and doubting trade of law and reason. The child within all of us who should laugh and sing is not encouraged by this. This man comes bringing his own childs laughter and music, open to all here. I feel that it is not so in some places elsewhere that he goes. There comes a time when the heart must speak. Think well, young daughter, and this time think with the heart.