For the past year and a half, lockdowns and social distancing rules have limited the time my husband and I could spend with our daughters, and we’ve been unable to visit my mother and brothers in the US. Working on a novel about an imagined family has helped me to feel less lonely. My characters accompany me, sometimes telling me their stories while I sleep, waking me in the night to make sure I write them down.
This summer we were delighted to finally spend a weekend at the cottage with both daughters and their partners, everyone double-vaxxed. But much of the time, it’s been just the two of us, finding comfort in the presence of other families—the couple with two kids who live next door to us in Cobourg, the robins, grackles, and sparrows nesting in our backyard and, at the cottage, the turkey vultures who return each spring to nest in the rocks beside our small cabin.
For more than twenty years, generations of the same turkey vulture family have raised their young on this piece of Canadian Shield. Each spring we’ve seen the adult birds (sometimes four or six, this summer eight!) return from wintering in the south, gliding above the lake in swooping circles. Each July we’ve watched two chicks, cloaked in white down, emerge from their shelter between the rocks to stretch their long grey wings. And every August, we’ve watched the newly fledged birds learn to fly.
A week ago, one flew up into a tree, landing on a branch about six feet above. The other soon joined it, the two of them perched on the branch until it began to creak beneath them. They flapped their great wings, and when the branch broke, dropped to the ground, where they regained their composure and began to climb back up the rock.
Next day, all eight adult birds convened in the sky above our cottage, sketching playful circles in the air, some staying close to the treetops, others soaring into the blue, distance making their arched shapes shrink. The parent birds often glide over our deck as we sit there, showing off their strength and grace, or simply saying hello. This summer the whole gang has joined in, giving us an aerial show, and maybe encouraging the young ones to fly by showing them how its done.
Two of the adult birds have gaps in their wings, one I recognize as the fledgling from 2019 who crashed into a tall pine, then down through two or three dead branches, finally landing on the forest floor. Several years ago, as I was swimming, another fledgling watched me from a tree overlooking the lake, then flew out and followed me, flying along overhead as I swam below.
Along with our daughters’ visits, it is the presence of this other family that makes this place feel like home, their presence, and that of countless other birds, mammals, and reptiles—the peewees and myrtle warblers, chipmunks and red squirrels, snakes, frogs and turtles, to name but a few. Here we never suffer from species loneliness. Here I always feel at home.
Still I miss my family, and am planning to visit my mother and brother in New Hampshire, hoping that the border to the US will open soon, and that my husband and I can drive there, but prepared to fly if necessary. In the meantime, I watch the turkey vultures. In the meantime, I swim with ducks and turtles. In the meantime, I write about the imaginary family in my novel, which helps me to miss my own a little less.