From the window of his Toronto home, John had watched for the arrival of
his favourite little birds for almost forty years. At the first sign of
the graceful blue birds playing and swooping across his back yard, John
would turn to his wife with a smile. "They're back, Jean! They're back!"
Sometimes the blue jays would come early. Sometimes they would leave late.
It differed from year to year. But whenever they returned to his little
garden in downtown Toronto, John's enthusiastic greeting was invariable.
Up went the nesting boxes and out came the feed, water tray and garden
furniture. That done, and from his vantage point on the patio, John
watched them ceaselessly, taking in the habits and characteristics of each
and every one.
Through the spring John would watch the little birds, taking note of where
they had nested, witnessing the first flights of the little ones as they
merged from the nest. "Have ye got the feed, Jean. We're goin' tae need
Over the years, John's blue jays had become a passion, so much so that
there was little about them he didn't know. Such a fanatic was John that
he claimed to recognise each and every bird, insisting that one bluejay in
particular had returned for the past nine consecutive years! "Ye can see,"
said John, "a distinctive lightening in the feather pigment just above the
"And he was right, as well," Jean later told me, "because whenever John
forgot a feeding, a rare occurrence indeed, that very same wee bird came
tapping on the window pane. Tap. Tip-tap." Jean smiled then, "Oh,
whit a pleasure that wee bird was."
Later that year, life took on a terrible turn for John and Jean. After a
series of tests to determine the cause of John's annoying shoulder pain,
the diagnosis of terminal cancer was fully realised. They considered all
the options, of course, consulted countless specialists in Canada and the
US, but by late July, John was finally informed that he was, in fact,
riddled with cancer and that there was no hope, no hope at all.
As John's illness progressed, he would sit in his chair by the window,
looking on with sheer joy at the shenanigans of those little birds as they
soared and swooped in and out of the trees in his back yard, lighting a
time or two upon his window sill for a brief moment before flying off.
In the Autumn, from the confines of his bed, John sensed that the birds
were ready to go. Pointing to one on a tree branch by the window, he said
softly, "Just a few days now and they'll all be off." Realisation dawned
then that he would never again see these little birds return to his
beloved back yard. "It was the only time he cried," Jean said.
Towards the end, while incurring bouts of excruciating pain, John still
found comfort in the antics of his little friends. "See now, Jean," he
whispered from his pillow, "they're about ready tae go."
To John and Jean's amazement, however, days past and all but one of the
little birds had flown south. "That's the wee one who's been here all
these years," John insisted. "He knows, ye see. He knows."
Jean told me later that that little bird had stayed for one day, and then
two days, and then three days, not once moving from his perch on the
windowsill while John looked on with a smile, occasionally whispering a
word or two to his little friend. In response, the little bird had pecked
at the window. Tap. Tip-tap. It was one of the last things John
On returning to the empty room on the day of the funeral, Jean noticed
that the little bird was still there, still perched on the sill. "And dae
ye know what?" she said, sotto voce, "I'd swear tae God that wee
bird turned and cocked it's wee head at me."
Later that evening, however, the bird was gone. "It was like a miracle,"
Jean said, her eyes filling with tears, "Whit a comfort that wee bird was
for John in his last moments. Now," she added, "every spring when those
wee birds return, I'm looking oot for them just as John had."