Travel,  Wisdom

I shall miss my winged neighbors.

There is so much I shall miss about this ancestral home, the birds, most of all. They are the first sounds I hear upon waking, and throughout the day, I often pause and listen to them going about their business—busy little creatures.

In this high alpine valley, we see a few migratory birds, and we mainly have sedentary species around the house. They live here year-round, nesting in the delicate birches and thick fir trees. The magpies, four couples at the moment, are the loudest and most entertaining. Each pair in its tree argues with its mate and neighbors. They are my lively midnight blue, shining black and snow white feathered companions. I also love the clever crows, the delicate blue and crested tits and the modest blackbirds. The sparrows live in large colonies in the honeysuckle edges; they, too, are noisy and stop their racket abruptly when I come near the fence. They wait a short while before resuming their song, calling out to each other about delicious bits and dangerous cats.

Calling out to each other is what my brothers and I did when our parents began to age. I left Boston to help care for my mother after my father died ten years ago. Maman was exhausted and bereaved; I thought I could take the time to be with her, and somehow, I managed.

My sweet brother Jean and I lived with her in the big house, making sure she did not fall and wasn’t lonely. On Sundays, Jean always remembered to bring home a pastry, the finest, of course, and we laughed at her childlike delight in savoring it, assuring us that la gourmandise was not a sin, and if it was, she was forgiven. Maman died peacefully in 2016, and I returned to Boston to teach English as a Second Language and French to bilingual children until retirement.

I have been back in France and the family house since. While my three brothers and I decided what to do with the house, it has been my base camp. Four siblings, four separate stories, four unique sets of circumstances and needs and our father’s solemn request that we keep the home in the family. By trial and error, we established an informal shared living space for a few years and held on. We all tried. But in the end, we have to sell.

Father and Mother are gone, and the home soon will be too. Like the birds around the house, my brothers and I will fly away, no longer neighbors inhabiting the garden but calling out to each other from great distances when there is a sadness to share or birth to celebrate.

I shall miss my brothers, the magpies, the sparrows and the magnificent sun-filled trees that define the boundaries of our land.

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