What better time to rhapsodize about robins than during these gloriously sunny days of spring?
T. S. Eliot’s "cruellest month" of April is behind us, and we know summer is coming — we feel it in our bones. Or should we be pessimists and say the threat of flooding is not yet resolved? No! Let’s get back to robins — they chirp spring in.
Wherever I’ve lived before moving into Dakota House, I always made sure we had a vegetable garden bordered by flowers in our yard. It was while working these gardens that I came to appreciate robins as my regular friends.
Robins — those rusty red-and-brown treasures hopping about on the lawns or building nests nearby. How I loved to see them come close to me as I dug the soil and turned over the hard-packed clods to prepare a comfortable home for the seeds or young plants I’d brought in from the markets.
Sometimes I’d reach down to remove a root or other undesirable litter and end up touching a wriggly, pinkish earthworm in the process. With my extreme aversion to crawly things, I would stand there and feverishly rub my hand on my jeans to get rid of its cold feel.
All this time the robin would be tipping his head sideways as if to better see the area where I’d been digging. If in my antics I stepped aside, the bird would flit over to the freshly-turned soil and fasten his beak onto the worm which was, to him, a delicate morsel — living proof of the adage that "one man’s meat is another man’s poison."
I’d watch him brace himself while the worm pulled the other way — a regular tug-of-war in nature. But my robin never failed to end up with his prey slung across his beak and his head held high, like a boxer with his hands up in the air in victory.
Then he’d bob his head back and swallow his prize. And we’d keep on gardening, me and my friend, the robin.
One day while on a tour of Britain I spied what looked like a Manitoba robin, but in miniature.
My heart went out to him. He looked so frail, so inconsequential against the looming castle bestriding the grounds behind him. I could not help but compare him with the robust robins I’d grown up with at home.
Now, having done some research, I offer a typically Canadian "I’m sorry" and this poem as a tribute to the English robin — and ours, too, my harbinger of spring:
A wee English robin hopped into my view
Midst patches of snow — and daffodils, too.
The March winds of Scotland were making me cold,
And pride in our robin was making me bold.
"You poor little fellow, you’re so tiny, so slow.
Don’t they feed you enough? You’ve forgotten to grow.
Our Canadian robin has a ruddy breast, too,
But he’s a giant — almost four times bigger than you."
The littlest of creatures can put you in your place.
I was a visitor — but where was my grace?
He looked me in the eye, his voice a mere hush,
"Yours isn’t a robin — it’s really a thrush."
Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital.