Dead Jackdaw

by ericavanhorn

30 April Saturday

I had already decided that the last full bucket of nuts was the final bucket of nuts.  The cold and the bitterness is supposed to end.  They keep telling us that this cold cannot go on. The birds do not stop eating and eating.  As often as I fill the feeders they are empty again. This morning I felt mean when I looked out at the nearly empty feeders and all the birds waiting to get a turn.  I took the bucket down to the shop and filled it half-full. I decided that half-full was still a lot of feeding. It is a big bucket.  This time it really would be my last bucket of the year.  I was waiting to have it weighed.  There was no one in the shop except a man with a long white beard standing around.  He was waiting to be served too. While we waited I told him of my dilemma about not wanting to buy more bird nuts but buying more bird nuts anyway. We both waited and looked around. I saw a lovely soft brush with a wooden handle.  It was all by itself, not in any kind of group with other brushes. There were three sections of brush on the flat wood. Each one was complete in itself so it was three brushes on one handle. I picked it up.  I loved it and I wanted it but I did not need it. The man with the long beard saw me looking at it and he told me that it was a distemper brush. Then he told me how his mother and his grandmother used goose feathers for the same job because they were strong and long.  He said everyone had a theory and a method for applying distemper to their walls. When John came in and asked which of us was first the man with the long white beard pointed to me and said She’s in a hurry. She has birds needing feeding in this desperate cold.

1 May Sunday

I am sorry to learn that John has died. I thought of him as The Ancient Man for a long time before I knew his name. He died two weeks ago.  He had a fall and broke his pelvis and after a while they brought him back from hospital but he only lasted three weeks at home.  Anyone who walked the river path spoke with John over the years. He knew everyone and everyone knew him.  John walked with his old dog Sally and then he walked without her when she died some years ago. He said he could not start again with a young dog. All of his dogs had  been called Sally and at the age of 92 he forgot how many Sallys he had had. John walked five miles a day every day until last year when he reduced his walking to five days a week instead of seven days a week. Even with all that walking John looked much older than 92. He walked very very slowly and he stopped often for a lot of conversations. I knew quite a bit about John just from meeting once a week over the years, but I did not know his last name.  I did not know where he lived and I did not know his family. I would not even know that he had died if I had not met Dora, who also walks with her dog on the path.

2 May Monday Bank Holiday

I have been in and out and back and forth and in the barn sewing books and packing parcels all day long all the time dressed in my garden gear.  I have carried my grubby gloves in my pockets at all times. At one point I passed near the washing line, admired the flapping laundry and I thought that today was a perfect drying day and then I thought I must get to work out here in the sunshine and by the time I came out of my room a few minutes later, the rain was lashing down and it was cold and bitter and horrible.  Again.  In between attempts and downpours I have done a lot of other things but now at 5.30 I have changed out of my Welly boots and my wet soil encrusted trousers and I am no longer going to try to do anything out of doors, even if it stays perfectly sunny until 9 pm as it probably will do.  I am giving up.

3 May Tuesday

One day last week we drove up and walked in the mountains at five o’clock. It was too cold to stay long but the late light was beautiful. We lasted about forty minutes before the wind defeated us. We stopped in at Rose’s for a quick drink on the way home.  The bar smelled terrible.  We immediately started looking at the floor as it smelled like something rotten from a farmyard had come in on the bottom of someone’s boots.  We couldn’t see anything on the floor so we figured it must be on someone’s trousers. There were only four or five people in there. Perhaps someone was spreading slurry all day and had stopped for a drink before going home to change. We drank up quickly and did not stay for another.  Today I talked to Peter.  He had just come up from Rose’s. She had asked him to stop in before the bar was open and before the fire was lit to check out the smoking of her chimney and her woodstove. She did not mention a bad smell. What he found in the chimney was a dead jackdaw. The jackdaw was squished into the chimney in a nearly impossible position.  Peter could not figure how the bird could have squeezed herself in and out of the very small available space as many times as would have been needed to build a nest and then to sit on the nest and lay the eggs.  He said the nest was made of all kinds of stuff: beer mats and cigarette ends and string and rags as well as the usual plant stuff. The jackdaw was sitting on eight eggs. The eight eggs were stuck to the body of the dead jackdaw and the whole mess was now in a skip outside the bar for anyone to see. Quite a few people had been out to have a look.

5 May Thursday

I have never folded up an Irish flag. I have never watched anyone else fold up an Irish flag.  There are more flags around than usual which I think is a result of the 1916 Rising anniversary commemorations. Pat told me that the people of Ireland have recently taken back their flag. She said that the IRA had sort of co-opted the flag for many years so people did not want to fly it and to perhaps be misunderstood.  Flying the flag in all sorts of places and on private property has never been a habit. I was surprised to see there was not even a flag in the courtroom when I was there on jury duty.  Now there are more flags and people are okay about flying them.  This morning I overheard a conversation about folding the flag.  A man was telling a small boy that one must always fold the flag so that the orange does not touch the green. I gather the green can touch the white and the orange can touch the white, but the green and the orange cannot touch each other.  There must be a particular fold that makes all this happen. I do not know if this was the man’s own rule about flag folding or if it is fact.


6 May Friday

Pascal has six calendars hung up in the kitchen.  He has all six hanging up in a very tiny kitchen which has not much wall space. They are the only things on the walls and Pascal’s wife is not very happy about having so many of them. She agrees that it is a fine thing to have a calendar on the wall because you need to know the day and sometimes you need to know about a day a week from now, but one calendar is surely enough for that.  Six calendars do not tell you any more than one tells. Actually there is a seventh one.  Pascal’s wife says the seventh one is the most annoying one because it is right over the taps.  It is the kind with a bright red number and each day the number gets pulled off and that days date is exposed.  Pascal loves to pull yesterday’s number off each morning before he even drinks his tea.  He reprimands her for splashing water on the pages.  The whole year of little pages is swollen and looks much bigger and longer than a year really is.  She tells Pascal to put the little calendar somewhere else where it will not get wet but every year this is where he puts it.  They squabble about it week after week.  She pointed this out to me right away before she Wet The Tea in the pot. Wetting the Tea is how she describes the pouring of boiling water over the leaves to make a pot of tea. This morning is not the first time I have been told about their soggy year. It will not be the last time I am told about their soggy year.