Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
One of the distinct advantages of living in the backyard of my grandparent’s house was spending time with my grandparents. My grandfather had somehow developed a bond with a wild bird, an Australian magpie. They are bigger than the European magpie and just black and white in colour, lacking the distinctive blueish plumage and very long tail of the European magpie. Australian magpies are attractive but not heart-stopping in their beauty. What they are renowned for is their beautiful song. This is the sound of my childhood and never ceases to make me smile.
My grandfather called the magpie Jacko and everyday he would stand near the backdoor to his house and call out in a sing-song voice ‘Jack-o Jack-o’. Inevitably Jacko would come flying down to visit and perch on the Hill’s Hoist washing line or the fence. My grandfather would walk to a metal garbage bin that was filled with crumbled up muesli and scoop some out and scatter it on the ground for Jacko to eat. While Jacko enjoyed his muesli, I would dip my hand into the bin and munch on a handful of the tasty apricot muesli, which tasted like Uncle Toby’s apricot muesli bars. I wonder if it was remaindered stock or not food grade and I wonder how my grandfather came to have it. It was a nice treat for me and Jacko. I don’t suppose that it was healthy for Jacko to eat sweetened muesli but he came everyday to eat it so I suppose that he also enjoyed it. It was a thrill everyday to be in close proximity to a wild bird. I was always tempted to stroke him but Jacko was clever and kept his distance from me.
My grandfather fostered in me a love of animals. He taught me how to identify birds based on their type of flight, their shapes at a distance (using his old binoculars), and their calls. He showed me not only how to identify different species but also males from females and juveniles. He taught me how to use wall charts and bird guide books. I spent enjoyable hours reading and learning about birds in the guide books and admiring the careful illustrations but also fantasising about seeing the more exotic birds in the wild. I took this enthusiasm for birds into my adult life and I have spent many enjoyable times hiking and looking at birds not only in many parts of Australia but also New Zealand and parts of North and South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. It was a gift for life!