“Have you noticed the one – legged one ?” he asked us with a familiar smile. We’d exchanged friendly greetings in passing with them, but this was our first discussion. “Yes we have”, I said, “We call her Peggy, you know, peg-leg, peggy? Though technically she doesn’t have a peg …” They both laughed and he told us they call him Fred, after a workmate with a missing leg. Giving it some thought, I guess neither is terribly politically correct. Not just for the absent limb specific monikers, but for the confusion in determining gender. Chickadees are difficult enough to tell apart, without trying to tell what their gender might be as well.
We’d seen the couple before and knew them (like ourselves) to be some of the few who show up most days to hand feed the chickadees on the Marsh trail. I was standing with my hand full of hulled sunflower seeds, and a chickadee, as they walked up to us. They chatted a bit, wished us a nice day, poured what was left of their seed into my outstretched hand, and carried on down the trail.
Most people will become mildly cognizant of that couple they see every morning at Tim Horton’s, or maybe that group of old guys you see every week at McDonald’s. Some commuters will recognize people who regularly ride the same public transport. Well, the same holds true for walkers. The wife and I “know” quite a few people we’ve encountered on the Marsh trail down at the waterfront. They have real names, but we don’t know them … don’t need to. We give them names, such as :
The Old Girl – a remarkably intrepid elderly woman who very carefully, and slowly, walks the trail just about every day regardless of the weather. She never has anyone with her. Always alone. I clear my throat as we walk up behind so as not to startle. She smiles while looking up at us from her stooped posture and comments on the weather. We agree, make a joke about it, and carry on. Haven’t seen her in a few weeks. Hope she’s alright. Might just be the ice storm.
The Ladies – no, not what you’re thinking. The Ladies are a couple of very old dogs who accompany a rather old guy. When we see them approaching we say “There’s the ladies” and the youngest one picks up speed to get some petting in before the old guy (human) catches up. The really old dog (I think he said she’s 15 years) is always far behind. But when she catches sight of us (and the promise of a good back scratching) she ramps it up and closes the gap right smartly. We scratch and pet the pooches while chatting with the old guy. Then he says, with a faint British accent “Alright girls, let’s go” and waves his hand down the trail. One day, I was sitting on the marsh lookout steps when the one dog climbed up and sat next to me. She leaned against me and waited for the older dog, and the old guy, to catch up.
The Quiet Guy with the “Men in Black Dog” – This is an unusually young fellow (meaning he’s there on week-days, with us retirees – we’re guessing shift worker) with a great big, clumsy golden lab and a little pug who stands to become a stain on the foot pads of a golden lab in the frenzy to get petted first, and most. The guy never says anything, and never stops when we pet, fuss and make much of his dogs. Most folks love to see their dogs being paid attention to, but this guy is very standoffish. I noticed a crest on the shoulder of his jacket, but could never get a good look at it. One day he finally walked by slow enough and turned enough that I saw the crest. That explained everything. Any of you from outside Ontario Canada won’t get this, but … it was an OPG crest, more commonly known as OPiGs. We Ontarians love our electricity, but hate the Hell outa the money-hoovering hogs who supply it. My objection is 6 figure pensions for CEOs who’d have been fired without a pension in 20 minutes, in a real business. But this fellow certainly couldn’t be one of them, so we kept smiling and fussing over the dogs until he smiled weakly at us last week. Well, it’s a start.
The Owl Guy – some guy who told us where to see an owl on the trail. We never did spot it.
Wilma E – actually, this one is the custom license plate on a car in which an old guy sits, while 2 old girls (real old girls this time – not canines) walk the trail. We’re guessing he can’t (or doesn’t want to) walk the trail. He parks in a position where he can see us feeding the chickadees. He always smiles and waves as we walk by, and the 2 old girls with their tiny little dogs always make friendly noises at us too.
The Psychic – this lady chatted about spheres … or … something, with regard to her pictures, or some such thing. Honestly, I hadn’t the slightest idea what she was going on about, but she seemed contented enough and at peace, so who cares ? Works for me. The wife (oddly) understood it all. Hmmmm
Not from around Here – On occasion there are tourists. Someone visiting Grandma or some such matter. Most walk past with an air of 1/3 fear, 1/3 arrogance, & 1/3 WTF you lookin’ at ? We just wait til they’re out of earshot and say “They’re obviously not from around here”.
Those are just a few, but our very favourite is Peggy, our little one – legged chickadee.
One Leg Peg (Peggy)
She (he?) is missing her left leg. No idea why. Though we did scare up a hawk from the shrubbery one day a few months back. It had definite designs on a chickadee but found the shrubbery too difficult to navigate in. That explains why Peggy and friends used to wait until our hands were within a foot of the shrubs before they’d come out for seed. The one – legged thing doesn’t seem to impede her ranking in the community. She’ll chase all comers away from our hands if it’s her turn, and quite honestly, we let her. On the few days when the chickadees aren’t interested in food, Peggy will always make a visit. We’d like to think she’s keeping up friendly relations, but I don’t know. She might be the only one, and she may only take a couple seeds, but she always shows.
She’s so bold, (and in a hurry) she’ll ditch her stash a foot away if needs be. We watched her last week as she deposited seeds into empty tamarack cones. She’d hang upside down by her one leg, and stuff the seed into the folds of the cone, then flip over herself and drop back into our hands for another. We watched her stuff one into the tip of a broken twig right in front of us.
We like to keep the posts loaded. “The posts” are what’s left of a railing along the trail near the parking lot. The railing is long gone, but the 2 old posts have rotted out hollow about 4 inches deep and they make perfect bowls to fill with seed. The seed is mostly sunflower in the shell (which is how we get birds to our hands, they don’t have to hull the seeds from us). But there’s often a blend too. As you walk up to the posts, there’ll be a flurry of mourning doves, 3 types of squirrels, blue jays, nuthatches, and even a woodpecker or two on occasion. Everyone knows to check the posts.
During the ice storm, we made daily trips to fill the posts. An ice storm makes foraging all but impossible for the beasties. The trail was impossible to walk (still isn’t pleasant to walk yet) during the storm but we could drive in and at least fill the posts. I’m looking forward to the day the surface ice melts away, and we can walk the whole trail (and many others) to attend to the other feeding locations.
Someone also leaves vegetables for the rabbits on occasion, but the ice storm snapped the tops off a few cedars making the tender twigs accessible. It looks like they just stood there stuffing cedar bark in one end, and shooting little poopy cannon balls out the other eh ? Gotta love the little lagomorphs (rabbits aren’t rodents – too many incisors).
So I guess we just gotta be patient while the forecasted warm weather melts the ice down. All our little ones will be waiting in their own specific feeding locations. Yeah I know they don’t really care if we show up or not. But we do, and that’s all that matters.