Tag Archives: birds

In the Magpie Tradition: Collecting

Magpie from Wikipedia

I grew up in Alberta where magpies were a predominant bird, much like crows are here in Vancouver. Magpies are raucous and bold and like bright things, much like crows. And they are related to the family Corvidae, which includes crows and ravens. We commonly said in our family, oh she’s like a magpie when someone collected or kept shiny things. But it also came to refer to anyone who collected items.

And really if we, as human beings, have something in common with the family Corvidae it is indeed our love of shiny things, as well as being collectors. It’s as much part of human nature as it is of crow nature. People collect shoes, jewellery, books, music, electronics, figurines, matchbook covers, baseball cards, paintings, plants, pictures, buttons, cars, women, men, countries. You name it, someone somewhere collects it.

And I am no exception. I collect a few things such as jewelery, clothes and books. But having always been an avid reader, and being a writer, I collect books, to a degree. And sure the internet is bringing about more digital media and books but there is something different in having a big picture book than scanning through pics on a computer monitor or the weensy screen of a phone. And many of us who love reading, love to hold a book and feel the paper. I haven’t had a chance yet to try the Kindle or any other electronic, hand-held reading device and it could be I like it. I tend to read my books so that they are not dog-eared and the spines are not bent. I treat them like religious relics, usually.

But I collect more than just books. I collect comic books. Yes, I am that rare breed, a woman who reads comics. My love of comics started as a child where there were probably only a dozen comics like Thor and X-Men and were read and re-read by me and my siblings. I forgot about them until I was in my 20s and one Christmas my boyfriend stuck some in my stocking for fun. I started reading them again and started subscribing.

And then I took the big plunge and worked in a comic book store for quite a few years. This has given me various skills and interests and at the height of my comic collecting I even bought two of certain first issues, but I usually only bought comics that I was interested in reading. And then I left the store and the comics changed as they always do. I would bag and box the comics and the boxes built up. Eventually a friend who had room in her basement agreed to store my comics; that include eight long boxes and three short boxes totally about 4,000-5,000 comics. There they lanquished until I completely forgot about them.

I continued to read and buy comics and do to this day but only a very few titles. One day, this friend contacted everyone who had stuff out of sight, out of mind in her basement and said she was tired of storing other people’s junk, and rightfully so. I was faced with all these comics that I haven’t looked at in many many many years, and no place to put them. So I started this weekend in going through those boxes and seeing what’s there. Most of them are not alphabetical with Avengers and Batman in one box and X-Men and Warlord in another box. No, there are a few issues of each in each box because as I read them I filed htem as I went. This has meant sorting each box but I’m not going as far as sorting all boxes at once. That’s just too many.

Some of the titles I used to collect (and that I’ve found so far) are: Dreadstar, Dalgoda, Amazing Spider-Man, Batman, Corum, Nexus, Mister Miracle, Miracle Man, Animal Man, Justice League (including Europe, America and International), Teen Titans, Love & Rockets, Nausicaa, Crying Freeman, Lone Wolf and Cub, Uncle Scrooge, Mickey and Donald, Terminator, Airboy, Strontium Dog, Watchmen, Groo, Shadow, Elektra, Flesh and Bones, Omaha, Swamp Thing, etc. And that’s only a few of the titles in those boxes. OMG

As is often the case, we collect some things for a short period (like marbles when I was a kid and you can search my blog on marble and the games of childhood) or forever, like books. However, even though I still read comic books, I don’t really miss all of these. I must catalogue and sort them and then try to sell them. And this is the price of collecting. Some I’ll sell for a song but a few might just be worth something so I have to go through them all and that is going to take time.

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Filed under art, consumer affairs, Culture, entertainment, memories, Publishing

The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

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Joe the Pigeon

I’m not sure why I remembered Joe the other day. Maybe it was because of the raucous calls of crows, the saucy toks of ravens and the black murders that fly over every day at dusk. But Joe was a bird of a different color.

Joe was a pigeon, not a stool pigeon but a fellow most fowl. We named him Joe, really not knowing his sex. I mean, really, how do you figure what a bird is, look under their tails? It’s all hidden away anyways.

Joe was a tenacious pigeon who lived in a nest in the eaves of the house next door to my roommate’s and mine. From the kitchen window over our sink we could see the pigeons come and go. Pretty much they were an indistinct lot of cooers, doing what birds do, fluttering into the nest, leaving for work, napping out during the day, making eggs. I’m not sure how many were in that nest but Joe hung around a lot.

So much so that he always seemed to be there, sitting on the wooden strut above the nest and watching, and watching. He watched so much with that beady eye that we began to wonder. In fact, it soon became apparent that Joe hadn’t moved in weeks, which became months. The other pigeons obliviously came and went so Louise and I would carry out their birdbrained conversations, done in a slow deep voice:

“Hey, what’s wrong with Joe?”

“Dunno, maybe he’s mad at us?”

“You think? Maybe he’s depressed?”

“Yeah, he just sits and stares at us.”

“Downright creepy, if you ask me.”

“Hey, Joe! Joe?”

And there Joe sat for most of a year, never moving, protected from rain and snow and wind. It wasn’t until a big guster blew through one day, pushing its icy fingers between the narrow space between two houses. Joe took his final flight that day, literally, now as light as a feather. The wind tossed his body down to the sidewalk where it exploded into dessicated bones and feathers. There was very little to find because it almost instantly vaporized after that length of time.

I did find Joe’s skull, sans beak as it had dropped off too. I kept his skull with other prized bones for quite a while. Until the new kitten found it and thought it a great toy to bat around and chomp on. We remember Joe though for his vigilance, where even in death he watched over the nest.

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Holiday Memories: The Good Ones

I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional family. Every Christmas usually involved one huge fight between my mother and father and my mother carting us off to a movie or for Chinese food or to a friend’s. When my father was gone, the fights still continued but they were transferred to us. My mother usually threatened to not get a Christmas tree or something else.

Every year my mother put us to polishing the silver and brass, stripping the linoleum floors (all of them) with ammonia and wax and polishing them. The floor waxing was a little draconian but I didn’t mind the polishing of rows on rows of collector spoons, the silver dinnerware only used at Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving, and the myriad other metal items. My younger brother devised a form of electrolysis to dip the things in and clean them; any thing to get out of the work.

But those are not the good memories. We always baked: sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, butter tarts, fruitcake and sundry other types. My mother had this giant ceramic crock, about 18 inches high in which she would pour the molasses, sugar, dried chopped fruit and cherries in dayglow, not made by nature, colors, the currents and almonds and whatever else goes into the fruitcake. We would stir with long wooden spoons as this was far too much for any set of beaters.

There were three graduated square pans and three round with the punch-out bottoms. In would go the brown and sweet batter (yummier that way than cooked). Once they were baked my mother would wrap them in cotton tea towels soaked in brandy, then she’d sprinkle them with more brandy, put in a slice of apple, wrap them in wax paper and store them in the crock. There was enough for a year or more. I never cared for fruit cake because I don’t like dessicated fruit.

The best part was the tree. It was usually 10-12 feet tall and went right to the roof. We had a little plastic angel (about 8″) with a light inside of her. Her best pale feature was the silken white angel hair, probably made from fiberglass for all I know but it was real. On would go the angel and the lights first, carefully strung by my older brother (or father at one point) with the bubble light set in the right spots after, and the weird little round snowball lights.

Then would come the placing of the balls, the many balls and ornaments–two large boxes about three feet high and 18 square inches wide, stacked to the top with balls. Even as a child some of those ornaments were venerable and I wasn’t allowed to place them until I grew a bit older. There was the silver smoking pipe and the violin, the trumpets and other horns that you could blow into and they’d honk…for the first while anyways, until the cheap noisemaker bust.

There were the glass birds, peacocks and swans and others with long fake, stiff fiberglass tails, which clipped on the branches. There were the balls with their indented crinkled interiors that gathered light and threw it back throughout the tree. These were often round or stretched like double-ended teardrops. There were a few hand painted balls. There were the teakettles and coffee pots, the old style hurricane lamps that always had a place nearer the top of the tree because of their delicate and venerated stature.

Then there was my ball. As long as I remembered it, it already had a hole in it, in one of those indentations. Some times my siblings would tease me that it had broken because I insisted on putting it in its special place every year. It was unique in shape and color. The top was like a ball with two (maybe three) indentations. It may have had a slim stemlike neck that was very short and then a slight dome that slid into a slow growing bell shape. The bottom gently curved the other way (convex) and joined up with a little nub hanging down. I believe the bottom was  silvery pink matching the painted flower on the side. The rest was a deep teal (I loved turquoise even then). In retrospect it resembled a glass bell about six inches long.

I loved that ball. It summed up in ways I can’t really describe, all the good things of Christmas; my family being together and happy (when they weren’t squabbling), gift giving, cooking and decorating the tree, and possibly having a few people over. The last parts to trimming that tree were adding the glass garlands; balls and bells, and the tinsel. We draped tinsel carefully over every single branch so that it shimmered and danced. We stopped putting it on the bottom branches because the cats kept eating it and it wasn’t a pretty sight at the other end. The lights bubbled, a few blinked but most shone a steady blue, red, yellow and green, carefully arranged so that the colors didn’t clump.

My mother pretty much stopped with a tree as the family went its own way, not always amiably, and she gave me many of the ornaments that she still had. One year, when I was out visiting I asked her, “Hey, where’s my ball?” I hadn’t asked in years or seen it but she knew exactly which one it was. She said, “Oh, it broke years ago.”

I was devastated. It was like that fragile glass had held all the good aspects of love, and Christmas and generosity. Like those emotions, like our relationships, it was something to be cherished, to handle gently, to respect. It was delicate and beautiful. I felt such a hollow and sorrow within me that I hadn’t even realized what it had meant to me.

This year I didn’t put up a tree, but I have several special ornaments and I recently found a ball with as unique a shape, very individual. Perhaps I didn’t do the tree this year because it’s been a tough year and I want the memories going into those ornaments to be good ones. Perhaps it’s a breather and remembering my friend Bear who died last year on Dec. 18th. I’ll have memories of all these things to hold close.

May your Christmas, or Hannukah, or Solstice or Kwanzaa, when they fall, bring you joy, warmth, friendship, love and family. And most of all may they give you good memories to hold close and cherish.

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