Birdie Business

I’ve been writing this post for about three years now. I’m happy to let it out of its coop, finally.

There are dog people and there are cat people, but I - we - are bird people. Birds have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was raised with a series of budgies and finches, flirted for a few years with a pair of very naughty lovebirds and enjoyed a very deep 25 year-long bond with Pookie, my cockatiel buddy. When we lost him a few years ago I was at a loss in more ways than one. There was suddenly a gaping, bird-shaped hole in my life. I allowed myself the time to grieve and left the question unanswered: could I live happily without sharing my life with a bird?

After months of gawping at wild birds (which I normally would’ve done anyway), considering their birdie shapes and their sheer, wonderful…birdiness I decided I couldn’t. It hit me hard one day - in the shower I just started sobbing. I needed feathers in my life. I needed claws and scratches and birdie kisses and fluff wafting around the house. Moreover, I need a buddy. I decided then and there that no matter the cost (well, I did have a budget of $2000), no matter the inconvenience and the mess, I was going to adopt a parrot.

A few months later (though it felt like forever at the time), I was stood in front of a shallow tray holding a clutch of four nearly fully-fledged African Grey parrot chicks. “Okay,” I said, “who wants to come live with us? There’s going to be lots of books and knitting and tea.” Perhaps this was a bit twee of me, but you’ve gotta let a guy know what he’s getting into, right? No sooner were the words out of my mouth than one of the chicks looked up and made a somewhat shaky beeline (birdline?) directly towards me, his black eyes shining. He had made his choice. And that was the first time I met Earl.
Three years on, life with Earl is many things, but one thing it isn’t is boring. He continues to hold me to my “books and knitting and tea” pledge every single day by diligently inspecting and/or getting involved with all of the above. Just yesterday he took the time to ensure that my knitting was up to his high standards.
Perhaps you’ve been keeping up with his (mis-)adventures on my Twitter, and if not, please feel free to start. Earl actually has his own Twitter, so if you like you can follow him as well.  He is, after all, a professional tweeter. Regardless, you can expect more Earl content to turn up here in the future.

Gnome Spores

Some people have warts, spoon collections, or small dogs. I have gnomes. Gnomes which, I should add, are uniquely fond of all of the above (weirdos.)*

I keep my gnomes (or rather, attempt to keep my gnomes) outside in a prepared garden that I dug especially for them. It's nestled beneath a Norway Maple that someone should've ripped out, but didn't about 25 years ago. I've kept it suitably woodsy and wild for them out there and as I've had no complaints from the wee bastards I assume that they're pleased with it. Nothing like urinating beneath a nice stand of lily-of-the-valley to get a gnome's blood flowing in his gnome-veins. Makes them feel alive.

Sometimes they like to do a bit of decorating of their own (and not just with their own bodily fluids!) Sometimes they coax mushrooms to grow. The other morning I looked out the window to see this going down: a classic, gnome-instigated mushroom party. I had to go out and investigate.

Gnomes have a lot in common with mushrooms, and not just because some (most?) of them are sort of damp, smelly, and fairly toxic if ingested. We know that mushrooms (and other fungus) spread via spores, and I strongly suspect that gnomes reproduce in the very same way, and just as quickly, too. One minute there's nothing and then poof, there's a whole mess of the little darlings all over the garden, running the show. I mean, how can one otherwise explain either mushrooms or gnomes?**
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go investigate a suspicious clang that I just heard downstairs. I thought that I had kicked them all outside this morning.***

*N.B.: My gnomes may not be representative of all gnomes. Maybe you're lucky. Maybe yours are the polite kind. Maybe your gnomes aren't gross little nutjobs who like to do the two-step in jam and then go smear their sticky feet on the good carpet. Mine find this to be a inexhaustible source of amusement (weirdos.)

**Not a rhetorical question. You can't. Don't try.

***I had. They came back.

Pheasants and Fords

Whenever we are heading west towards home on Riverside Drive I always make sure to look toward the river when we pass the former Ford property near Drouillard Road. The site of the first Ford plant in Canada from 1904 to 1953, is now a naturalized area along the Detroit River. The place where thousands of Model Ts and other cars were built is now home to native plants and wildlife, including a colony of pheasants, which is what I am looking for every time we pass by. The wild pheasants are notoriously furtive and tricky to photograph, so here is a picture of Phil, the pheasant who lives in my parlour, instead.
With so many major Ford landmarks just a stone’s throw from home it’s become something of a pastime for us to visit them each in turn. This weekend saw us finally make the trip to the original purpose-built Ford property, the Piquette Avenue Plant, where the iconic Model T was born.  And a fun fact: a Ford logo with “wings” on either side means that that vehicle was produced at the Piquette Plant.
 The Plant does not (and never did) have air conditioning but they did have festive cardboard hand fans available for visitors’ use.  Handy, should one “get a case of the vapours.” I thought briefly of the generations of workers who had to toil here in the steamy Great Lakes summer heat without the luxury of a free hand with which to fan themselves.
Built in 1904, the Plant really is a remarkable space, and one can tell that the building’s restoration must have been an incredible undertaking. I’ve always had a soft spot of long banks of tiny-paned factory windows.
All those windows mean lots and lots of beautiful, bright light. Good for the workers to assemble cars by; great for the 21st century visitor to admire the colour and texture of the contents within.

This 21st century visitor, however, rather fancied looking out of those windows for the tasty vistas they offered. I’ve always loved Detroit’s industrial landscapes ever since I first connected with them as a teenager. Big old water towers were always my favourite.

Shifting my gaze back inside, there were plenty of other visual treats to admire. There were plenty of cars on hand, looking more like properly manufactured machines than the ones I’m used to seeing…

…as well as this specimen, which out docent told us was made at the plant in Walkerville - now the field where my pheasants now live. It’s always nice to run into a neighbour!
The tires and their various tread patterns are always a delight for the uncommonly observant. I especially enjoy the clever use of the words “Non Skid” in the one design.

The old automotive company logos are fascinating, ranging style-wise as they do from somewhere in Rococo and Art Nouveau…

…right through to Art Deco with its stylized reworking of mythological and esoteric themes: Egyptian, Greek, and even Alchemical ideas all coming into play.*

Coming back down to Earth, I spotted this hood ornament/mascot which again reminded me of my pheasant buddies. I could be mistaken, but I think it's a grouse. Still a nice field-dwelling bird!
Henry Ford’s personal office at the Plant was a particular highlight. Here he is seated in it in a contemporary photograph:
…and here is the actual room, recreated to look as it would have done the day that photograph was made:
Naturally what caught my eye was the floor.
Oh, that FLOOR!

And if you find yourself fancying that floor as much as I do, and if you like working with WOOL, and knitting mittens, please do watch this space. (Ahem - say no more!)


*No, the six-pointed star in that Dodge Brothers logo is not a religious symbol. Instead it is two entwined triangles, one light, one dark, and each stands for one of the two Dodge brothers themselves. Some of you might recognize those triangles as representing both Male and Female forces; the Light and the Dark; Fire and Water as in Alchemical pursuits; or as a symbolic representation of the esoteric tenet “As above, so below.” Whichever it is, they ultimately represent two necessary, differing forces coming together to create something greater than the sum of their parts, which is the same whether we’re discussing the nature of the soul of running a successful automotive empire.

The Dodge Brothers themselves have always seemed like peculiar characters to me in their own right, most likely because they died relatively young, both in the the same year and of their elaborate Egyptian Revival mausoleum in Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery. I fully intend to investigate them more deeply in the near future.