When the kids were still living at home, we took a car vacation, driving from Salt Lake City to Banff. Banff is in such a glorious part of the Canadian Rockies that it merits its own post. This isn’t that post. This one is where I admit that I’m a nerd.
My husband and the kids went on a great white water rafting day trip. I refused to go. The reason was that I wanted to videotape magpies and lilacs.
I’d been living so many years away from Michigan, where I grew up, and hadn’t seen lilacs in so long. And I’d never lived around magpies.
I knew hubby and the kids were not going to be interested in chasing after magpies and lilacs, so when they said they wanted to go rafting I begged off, saying I really wasn’t up to it. Nope, I had more fun than that planned for myself.
After they left, I took the camcorder and headed up the hill where the day before we had driven past a long hedge of lilacs filled with black-billed magpies. When I got there, the magpies were waiting for me. While I filmed them, they cavorted on the branches and the ground, entertaining me with their feeding and relationship habits.
Did you know that magpie couples generally stay together for life? If one dies, the other might find another mate. Very occasionally, they do divorce. No, I’m not kidding.
I don’t really know why I’m so fascinated by magpies. Maybe it’s their black and white markings, like spectator shoes, or maybe it’s that they are one of the most intelligent animals. Like chimps, elephants, dolphins, and humans, magpies can recognize themselves in the mirror.
They are also very moral birds, grieving for their dead. They hold funerals and have been known to bring wreaths to the funerals.
Whatever the reason they intrigue me so much, I spent at least five years trying to write a magpie poem. I’ve about hung it up. I can’t write anything that begins to be do justice to these birds. I’m throwing it away. When I sit down to write a magpie poem next time, I’m starting from scratch, but first I need to find me some more magpies.
And the lilacs the magpies were on? The ones that reminded me of my great-grandfather’s farm and the lilacs out behind. That reminded me of my last house in Michigan, with the lilacs out behind the one row of Concord grapes. I couldn’t videotape the smell.
But today I stopped into Whole Foods, and right by the door, they had bouquets of dark purple lilacs. After checking my Blackberry to make sure that they are not poisonous to my cats (who have never met magpies), I bought a bunch to bring home.
The smell isn’t as deep as the ones in my memory, but the lilac scent is unmistakably from my past.