September 21, 2016 by Katia
I immediately loved the birds.
I’ve seen sparrows and doves back home, but when I moved to Canada, I was fascinated with the decorative colourfulness and newness of other birds I’d never seen before. I now know just how common robins are. I’ve had those “first hear then see” encounters with woodpeckers as I walked down my street, and I’ve occasionally noticed a little red spot in the tree which turned out to be a northern cardinal or even a rainbow-coloured bunting, if I was very lucky, but back then, almost ten years ago, it felt as if I was walking within the confines or a very large urban zoo and among all the unsettling newness this kind of novelty was welcome.
We moved to Canada with a dog, some books, some linen and knick-knacks that were meant to contribute to the sense of “home away from home”. Some of our other belongings deemed valuable (I should mention I was a newly-wed and a recent Art History graduate)were a camera-tripod and a pair of binoculars, purchased on our trip to Southern France, where we used them to examine the sculpted capitals of the Romanesque church of St. Maurice de Vienne, the subject of my thesis. When I was sorting through our things in Tel-Aviv and decided the binoculars would make the cut (probably as a memorabilia item) I don’t think I ever suspected I’d be using them for bird watching. No less surprising was the subsequent purchase (once in Toronto) of a field guide to birds and several trips to a nearby ravine armed with the mentioned objects, my husband and our dog. No special birds were observed on any of those occasions but somehow bird watching or even just the hope of seeing one – a new kind of bird – served a deep need in me at the time and carried me through.
The bird we saw on our first visit to the Toronto Zoo must have sensed that.
In the very first pavilion we visited, I found a sign. I believe we were looking at a large animal, maybe a Malayan tapir, but instead we kept getting distracted by a very tiny creature, clearly demanding our attention. “I think it was trying to tell us something” I told a friend on Facebook later when I posted the photograph of the blue bird that followed us (the same photograph that’s attached to this post). The tiny turquoise bird landed on the railing separating the visitors from the tapir at the other end of the pavilion and it travelled up and down it following our movements through the room. It sat still and posed for me and it flew when hopping alongside us on the railing was no longer an option. I was touched and reassured. I knew this meant something, and I knew that it was something good, what exactly, I couldn’t tell. Having moved to a new continent, leaving our families, friends and jobs, language and neighbours, familiar contexts and our well-defend spot in the fabric of society, this was a time of uncertainty and uprootedness. This was a time characterized by one word – “away”. Social encounters that did occur only seemed to emphasize the big, giant backdrop of isolation and here was this bird that sought us out, chose us and wanted to follow us, and wanted together, and wanted close and it was so meaningful at the time.
We’ve gone back to the zoo on numerous occasions bringing our firstborn with us as a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler accompanied by his baby brother and so on. I never saw the bird again, but I will never forget the grace it extended to us.