Still Waiting…

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A cold breeze was starting to whistle across the water, and Algy began to feel a wee bit exposed and chilly out in the open. Looking across to the other side of the slipway, he observed an odd structure which he could see right through, more or less. It was open on one side, and apparently contained a long, silvery perch, possibly for the convenience of those who might seek protection from the wind…

He flew over to the object and inspected it cautiously, trying to determine whether it would be acceptable for a fluffy bird to enter and wait within. A mysterious notice to one side read “RNLI PERSONNEL ONLY”, and for a moment Algy thought that it might be intended to prohibit fluffy birds from the area. But after careful inspection he concluded that although he wasn’t quite sure what the notice meant, it seemed to apply to an area beyond the transparent structure and not to the structure itself. So, as there was no-one else taking advantage of the shelter, Algy eventually decided that there would be no harm in his resting inside, out of the biting wind, while he continued to wait for some transport back home. He settled himself on the edge of the strangely uncomfortable, slatted perch, swinging his legs idly to and fro, and with little else to do except consider the store of poetry he kept inside his head, he began to recite quietly:

Today I will let the old boat stand
Where the sweep of the harbor tide comes in
To the pulse of a far, deep-steady sway.
And I will rest and dream and sit on the deck
Watching the world go by
And take my pay for many hard days gone I remember.

I will choose what clouds I like
In the great white fleets that wander the blue
As I lie on my back or loaf at the rail.
And I will listen as the veering winds kiss me and fold me
And put on my brow the touch of the world’s great will.

Daybreak will hear the heart of the boat beat,
Engine throb and piston play
In the quiver and leap at call of life.
To-morrow we move in the gaps and heights
On changing floors of unlevel seas
And no man shall stop us and no man follow
For ours is the quest of an unknown shore
And we are husky and lusty and shouting-gay.

[Algy is reciting the poem Waiting by the 20th century American poet Carl Sandburg.]

Waiting…

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Algy flew slowly over to the spot where he had first arrived on the island, and perched on a massive, hard structure whose nature he did not understand. It could hardly be intended for the purpose of holding back the sea, as a cliff of natural stone rose directly behind it, but he supposed that the humans had had some reason for building it, and it did provide a convenient and very solid perch for fluffy birds who happened to be waiting for transport.

However, there was no ferry boat anywhere in sight… Algy wondered whether it would indeed come back for him, but he was not in any hurry; the sun was still shining, and it was peaceful just sitting beside the sea, listening to the gentle splashing of the small waves on the slipway. As he settled down contentedly to wait, he remembered a poem from long ago, written by an American naturalist:

Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.

I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.

Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.

What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it hath sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.

The waters know their own and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.

The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.

[Algy is quoting the poem Waiting by the 19th century American naturalist, essayist and occasional poet, John Burroughs.]

What Says the Clock?

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Algy hopped back down onto the beach, keen to try as many different kinds of perch as he could find in this exciting new environment. He noticed that the local birds seemed to be masters of all perches, but when he tested some of the more unusual options he discovered that some were a wee bit more challenging for a fluffy bird than others, requiring a high degree of acrobatic skill and an advanced sense of balance which he had not had a chance to develop adequately…

As he wobbled from side to side, trying not to look foolish – and above all, not to fall off – in full view of the cackling sea birds who were watching him from the water, a loud sound tolled out from behind him, with a deep, clear note. The repeated tone was mesmerizing, and with the tide crawling slowly out further beyond the beached boats, he was inevitably reminded of some verses by one of his favourite poets, which he had noted especially because he had feathers instead of hair…

Saddle and ride, I heard a man say,
Out of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea,
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
All those tragic characters ride
But turn from Rosses’ crawling tide,
The meet’s upon the mountain-side.
A slow low note and an iron bell.

What brought them there so far from their home.
Cuchulain that fought night long with the foam,
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
Niamh that rode on it; lad and lass
That sat so still and played at the chess?
What but heroic wantonness?
A slow low note and an iron bell.

Aleel, his Countess; Hanrahan
That seemed but a wild wenching man;
What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?
And all alone comes riding there
The King that could make his people stare,
Because he had feathers instead of hair.
A slow low note and an iron bell.

[Algy is quoting the Song for the Severed Head from the play The King of the Great Clock Tower by the 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats.]

Life’s Ladder

As Algy explored the harbour at low tide, he found many unusual perches, of which some were better adapted to the needs of a fluffy bird than others… He was particularly interested to discover that, at intervals along the great wall which contained the sea when the tide came in, wooden structures with multiple perches had been provided – presumably to suit the different levels the water might reach – and he wondered how the humans could make use of them. For fluffy birds, at least, they only provided a moderate level of comfort, but as Algy perched on one of the lower levels of such a structure, he found that a poem he had once read came to mind, and he wondered whether it might perhaps provide an explanation:

Unto each mortal who comes to earth
A ladder is given by God at birth,
And up this ladder the soul must go,
Step by step, from the valley below;
Step by step to the center of space
On this ladder of lives to the starting place.

In time departed, which yet endures,
I shaped my ladder and you shaped yours,
Whatever they are, they are what we made,
A ladder of light or a ladder of shade;
A ladder of love or a hateful thing,
A ladder of strength or a wavering string,
A ladder of gold or a ladder of straw –

If toil and trouble and pain are found
Twisted and corded to form each round,
If rusted iron or moldering wood
Is the fragile frame, you must make it good
You must build it over and fashion it strong,
Though the task be as hard as your life is long;
For up this ladder the pathway leads
To earthly pleasures and spirit needs,
For all that may come in another way
Shall be but illusion and will not stay.

[Algy is quoting parts of the poem Life’s Ladder by the late 19th/early 20th century American writer Ella Wheeler Wilcox.}

He thought he saw…

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As the fishermen who were mending their nets at the end of the wharf kept on looking at him, Algy came to the conclusion that his presence must be making them a wee bit nervous. He certainly didn’t want to distract them from their work, or cause them any alarm, so he turned away and moved to the further side of a large bollard near the edge of the quayside, to make it clear that he was no longer watching them. The hard surfaces of these man-made structures were not at all congenial to perch upon or lean against, but Algy was so fascinated by the strange new environment he had discovered that he resolved to put up with the discomfort a little longer. As he tried to make sense of the confusing jumble of objects on the pier, and reflected upon the odd activities of the humans he had seen, he was reminded of some well-known verses by Lewis Carroll. So Algy started to sing quietly to himself:

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
“At length I realise,” he said,
“The bitterness of Life!”

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
“Unless you leave this house,” he said,
“I’ll send for the Police!”

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
“The one thing I regret,” he said,
“Is that it cannot speak!”

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus
“If this should stay to dine,” he said,
“There won’t be much for us!”

[Algy is quoting some of the verses from The Mad Gardener’s Song, which appear scattered at intervals in chapters of Syvie and Bruno by the 19th century English writer and logician, Lewis Carroll.]

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lament…

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Suddenly, Algy caught sight of a bright, white lighthouse, built on a small, low spit of land projecting from the coast of the island. Being used to a very much larger lighthouse, which dominated a mass of highly exposed and very dangerous rocks, Algy was amused by this tame and modest version, though he guessed that the humans must have had some reason he could not perceive for putting it there. As he gazed at the neat little lighthouse while the ferry boat chugged on towards the land, Algy chuckled to himself, remembering a poem he had once read:

Oh what is the bane of a lightkeeper’s life
That causes him worry, struggle and strife,
That makes him use cuss words, and beat his wife?
It’s Brasswork.

What makes him look ghastly consumptive and thin,
What robs him of health, of vigor and vim,
And causes despair and drives him to sin?
It’s Brasswork.

The devil himself could never invent,
A material causing more world wide lament,
And in Uncle Sam’s service about ninety percent
Is Brasswork.

The lamp in the tower, reflector and shade,
The tools and accessories pass in parade,
As a matter of fact the whole outfit is made
Of Brasswork…

[Algy is quoting the first four verses of the poem It’s Brasswork: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lament written by Frederick W. Morong, an American lighthouse keeper in the early 20th century.]

A Light Exists in Spring…

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Algy relaxed in the safety of the wee corner he had found, and basked in the unaccustomed warmth of the early spring sunlight. The wind was still icy, but in a sheltered spot it felt comfortably pleasant – as is so often the case in the wild west Highlands of Scotland when the sun deigns to shine…

It was the vernal equinox, and as Algy gazed at the bright colours glowing all around him, he rejoiced at the start of the light half of the year – and remembered some lines from a poem he had read, although he felt that its reference to human nature was a wee bit restrictive…

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

Algy wishes all his friends in the northern hemisphere a very Happy Spring!

[Algy is quoting the first two stanzas of a A Light Exists in Spring by the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.]