Robins for Supper



     I grew up in Arizona. But every summer from the time I was eight until I was eighteen my family made a three day trek to my grandparents’ home on Orcas Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Every bit of those summers was magical. The temperate rain forest of the island was a tangled green so lush it almost hurt my eyes. Parched from the previous twelve months in the desert, my sister, brother and I gulped it down in great verdant draughts. We spent nearly every daylit moment outside, scrambling along deer trails, prying limpets off rocks to use as bait to catch rock cod, building tree houses in sturdy Douglas Firs, and, as teenagers, sitting for hours at the ocean’s edge contemplating the mysterious workings of the universe.

     And we came back, one by one, like a stone skipped along the Northwest coast, touching down in Seattle, the Skagit Valley and Vancouver, BC. This was my mother’s gift -- not just the days of driving -- but the long-term gift of taking us to a place that each summer tethered an invisible strand to our imaginations, until one day the combined strength of those strands created an irresistible pull that would draw us back and tie us down, each one, firmly to the Pacific Coast, far from her.

     Those strands were woven by Orcas, the place, but also by the people—and two people in particular: my grandparents’ neighbours, Frank and Dorothy Richardson. Frank was a retired professor of ornithology who looked strikingly like Leo Tolstoy, and Dorothy was a homemaker with a graduate degree in biology and crinkly fairy godmother eyes. They both were slight and ate like birds. They also ate birds. Not just chickens and turkeys: they ate little birds. They ate robins. Or at least, they ate one robin. We entered their kitchen one afternoon—unannounced as usual—just as they were clearing their dishes from lunch. We were surprised by the teeny bones on their plates. In response to our bewildered expressions, they explained that a robin had flown into their car windshield while they’d been driving back from town, and, not wanting it to go to waste, they had brought it home, cooked it and ate it. I myself have yet to eat roadkill, but I appreciate the amazing commitment to conservation it represents. There’s a First Nations-esque respect and love for creation in their unwillingness to waste what lost its life, if not at their hands, then at their windshield.

     The Richardsons’ approached the entire natural world with this degree of care and concern. They never once sat down and lectured us on the evils of clear cuts or the plight of endangered species; they simply invited us into their lives. We caught Lingcod from their rowboat, pulled carrots in their organic garden, paddled along the coast in their hand built kayaks, hiked along woodland trails and learned (momentarily) the Latin names for wild orchids, and when need arose used their outhouse so as not to waste the precious “indoor” water which they had collected from their rooftop.

     The combination of Orcas Island’s wild beauty and the Richardsons’ friendship packed a double punch, which formed in me a deep love for creation, even the creation of my desert homeland. That love transformed into conviction and became an impetus for caring for creation in both my everyday and vocational life.
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