Monday, July 11, 2011

taking flight

So we were on our bikes yesterday

riding into a cold wind, on a wild blustery day, pedalling madly to keep warm.

Riding past the ocean, riding past the wind-kicked waves, past the dudes stripping off and putting on their wetsuits for a surf (a surf!!), past the low green hills, past the dude releasing pigeons from the back of his ute…

My girl stops.

My husband and I stop too

and we watch the birds 

wheel into the sky

wings flapping madly, turning this way and that, cruising a little over the sea and back, as they get their bearings,

then off they go and away, westward and home.

My girl says, 'Can we go talk to that man?'

That man in the distance, over the grass, by his truck. The stranger, releasing pigeons into the blue.

Huh. I would never have thought to go and talk to him. I would have stood back and watched him until the cold got too much, 
then ridden on.

But my girl wants to go over and ask the man questions. She wants to know what he's doing. She wants to know all about the pigeons. She wants to get close. She wants to learn something. 

'Can we, Mum?' 

Well, can I? 

How far does my Yes stretch? To walking my bike across the long field, feeling self-conscious… ? Will he mind if we talk to him? Will he be nice? We might disturb his pigeon business. We might disturb the birds. Who in the world goes across a sea of green to talk to a pigeon guy? 

The wind whips up. My girl looks up at me, sun-squinting. Waiting.

(Well, we do. Is the answer). 'Of course!' I say.

So we walk, and my son emerges from the low hills, coming back from the call of the bmx tracks there, and says, 'What are you doing?'

'Going to talk to the pigeon man,' we say. 'Want to come?'

'Of course!' he says. 

We four walk, bikes rolling by our sides. 

And the man turns when I call, 'Hello! Can we ask you about your pigeons?'

'Of course!' he says. And smiles.

His name is Les. He's kept pigeons, 'Not long,' he says. 'Just since 1967.' 

Sure, he races them. How far have they flown? Oh, from Rockhampton in Queensland, across Bass Strait from Tasmania, home from Keith, South Australia. 'They're home in a day,' says Les proudly. 'Or less.'

They don't always come back. 

'That one,' he points a thumb at the cage beside him, at one of the heads bobbing up and down, 'was got by a hawk, but I stitched him up.' 

We hear about the hawks, the electronic signals in the air, all the things that'll stop a pigeon from coming home.

We hear about pigeon racing, and did you know it's huge in Belgium? Like, massive. They don't do greyhounds or horses. They do pigeons. 

'I didn't think it was much of a spectator sport,' I say.

'Not at the beginning!' says Les. 'That's the boring part, that's the part for us fellas. No, they all wait at the end for them to come home. People'll bet millions of dollars on 'em. A man in Japan spent $180,000 just for one pigeon.'

'A winner?' I ask.

'He thought so!' Les grins.

You can start with a hundred and fifty pigeons and end up with none by the end of the year. You can't get attached. You just make more pigeons. 

And all this time, Les is reaching back and releasing pigeons, three at a time, into the light-drenched sky.

The birds have figured out the way home from watching their friends, and fly like arrows. West.

'They'll be home before me,' says Les.

Hopefully all of them, I think. Wind-blown and blissed. With their minds alert, their feathers and bones and minds alight.

'Thanks so much, Les,' we grown-ups say, 
and shake Les's hand. 

And as we leave, and wheel our bikes over the grass, the kids remember, and 

call out over their shoulders, 

Thank you! 

Thank you!

Les smiles at my girl, my boy. 'My pleasure!' he calls back. 

We ride and grin. 

'Wasn't that awesome??' we say to each other, to the one riding in front, the one riding behind.

Oh, it sure was.

And we wouldn't have this moment, 
if not for my girl.

Asking, thinking, wanting, looking,

and for us living, 
more and more, bigger and bigger,

in a land of Yes.

linking with lovely


  1. It is wonderful how our children can open us up to new experiences, through their inquisitiveness and desire to learn about the world, unencumbered by the layer of inhibition we grow as adults. I have also broadened my knowledge of the world in this way through asking (on behalf of an eager youngster)all kinds of things. And yet for myself i so often let the fear of whatever (are they friendly, receptive, willing to share?) get in the way of asking. Beautiful post, I can almost smell the sea air and feel the cold wind on my face. A lovely reminder that the road to knowledge is littered with cast off inhibitions!

  2. FAB-U-Lous!! What a great post! Thank goodness for children and what they stretch us to do. :)

  3. To me this is learning at its best. The first thing I bought when I started homeschooling was a little tape recorder. Everywhere we used to go Kei would 'interview' people. The guy who changed my oil, the grocery store manager, the stock boy, everyone. And every one of them were kind and nice and answered her questions. Who doesn't love talking about their job or what they love?

    I love that your girl is the girl who ask, "Can we" and that you are the Mother to say, "Of course we can!" Your kids will remember that so much longer than if you read the same information out of a book! Great post. :)

  4. So many people don't notice and understand the underlying structure of things - the importance of what's behind the asking, and the potential experience to be had. So many people would have brushed off your daughter's request without a moment's thought.

    I love that you take the time and effort to notice, consider, and say yes whenever you can. I try to do that too (of course, I know I fail a lot, but I try!), and it's encouraging to read about others saying yes. How cool - the pigeon man!

  5. What a fantstic story! Your girl giving herself a lesson in courage and trust: trust that if the pigeon man is receptive it could be great and if he's not, well, that would be disappointing but that's okay too. And, you, the mum, trusting her, saying, Yes, let's try it.

    This is exactly the kind of crazy thing we do. E.g., years ago (before kids), dh and I walked 200m across a sheet of ice, a giant lake that was frozen, to talk to an ice-fisherman in his little hut. Most people love to talk about what they love.

  6. How fabulous that your girl is so inquiring, so open to new things, so curious about the world. What a great mum for saying Yes! I bet you made that guy's day. And nice shot of the pigeons! Great post, fantastic story - thanks for sharing.

  7. Yay! What a fantastic chance meeting. How wonderful that your daughter is confident & outgoing so you could all learn something new instead of just wondering about it. Just fabulous!

  8. I love where unschooling takes us and the things we learn that we might not have. What a beautiful post, Helena. Reminds me of my grandfather who kept homing pigeons too :)

  9. What a fascinating story. Suddenly, I want to know more about homing pigeons...

  10. I love seeing what all your Yeses bring you!! And it's such a beautiful thing to watch the children follow their curiosity. It's truly impossible not to learning anything new on any given day. And Les, what a marvelous character he is--"not long, just since 1967"--priceless :).

  11. Wonderful post, Helena! Like Lauren, my Grandad kept racing pigeons too, in the UK, and sometimes let me go with him to release them, he had a real old fashioned clock that had to be set and it was a real privilege to be able to do it! Great photo's too - pigeons are amazing really!

  12. I also like that you didn't fear The Stranger. Many people in America fear anyone they don't know. It's annoying. Especially since I'm a stranger and I'm FREAKING NICE. Well, not right now. I'm tired, right now. But USUALLY? Usually, I'm nice.

  13. I love this, Helena. I love the yeses that bring us connection. I know for myself, the phrase, "My daughter was wondering if you...?" has brought me into many conversations I wouldn't have dared begin on my own :) And the other people have been mostly delighted to talk about themselves and share their knowledge. How wonderful for your family, and for us here sharing in your stories, that you say YES. Yes, we can.

  14. I've just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.


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