8:30 AM, January in Aberdeen: the brightest stars are still clearly visible, the eastern sky red and black with long strings of clouds torn to tatters from their long journey from the Atlantic, across the Cairngorms, to the cold North Sea. It’s unusually warm this morning, 5°, and I stood out back with a steaming cup watching the birds. There are no surprises this far north—there simply isn’t enough diversity for there to be anything unexpected. Once one’s eyes have learned to distinguish rooks from crows, greater seagulls from common, dunnets from sparrows—well, that’s about it. The vagrants really stand out, and most species are recognizable from their outlines.
After a few months back in North America, the sheer paucity of life in northeast Scotland really shocked me. Toronto was a brutally vibrant human place; all the dogs were purebreds and it was hours on the bus out of town before one shook free the infectious tendrils of housing tracts. But in the markets and back gardens of the groin of the city there was a staggering diversity of food unfolding, and as Bhāwanā observed, this was the northern limit of Three Sisters agriculture. One could, were one so minded, grow maize and beans and squash in one’s back garden right in the middle of the city. The research community was welcoming in a way that we have not encountered for many years. As for Florida, walking and canoeing around the rivers and sandy forest in the company of like-minded, broad-hearted folk there was bliss. It helped, certainly, that we were among friend gathered from all across the world to work on shared interests and altruisms—but the coyote, the oaks, the vultures, the oranges, the jays and armadillos were signs of home. Feeling, hearing, smelling, seeing the quantity and variety of life-forms showed me how numb and disconnected I have become in the past few years.
One pigeon this morning, perhaps a member of the homing pigeon stable that lives two streets over, was playing against the wind. After turning into the wind it would fall and draw its wings together with an audible slap, then rise, turn, and prepare to loop again. My eye was drawn to a more distant black blob moving with the wind, fast, past our suburb and out over the dunes. No matter how I strained I couldn’t scry out its wing shape or the rhythm of its flight. Was it a lone duck, obscuring its wings with the bulk of its backside? Eventually I gave up: it was too far away now, my eyes had failed me, I was getting old and blind. From over my shoulder came another oddly lumpen shape, this one pink, dragging a string along, then one more. Three balloons, foolishly truant early on a Sunday morning, were stolen by the wind and hurled into the wrathful sea.