The Old Crow

This will be a memorable road trip, I thought, as I was driving down the street admiring the bittersweet beauty of the Garry Oak’s shedding their leaves in a  final burst of red, orange and yellow glory.  My sister and I were traveling four hours away to fling my mother’s ashes into infinity at the edge of a cliff.  

“Oh, I hope she’s ready,” I thought. You can’t honk the horn at five a.m. and I really don’t feel like getting out of the warm car this morning.  That’s when I saw her, looking through the windows on the closed in porch, just like our mother had so many years ago.  “Man!  I miss her,” I thought.  I didn’t know if I was missing my mother or my sister at that point.  And that small emotion grew to a threat of even more loss as I remembered what I wanted to talk to my sister about on that long drive. 

“Hey!  Good morning, Sis!  It’s good to see you,” I said.  “Wanna stop at Timmy’s on the way out and grab a coffee?”

“A Diet Pepsi, maybe,” she said.  “And an Old Fashioned Glazed donut.”

We were both afraid of this trip.  It’s a sad thing to let ashes go, almost like tossing your mother away.  And we had strained relations for the past four years, ever since I started asking for an equal share of the estate. My mom put Trudy, my sister, on the land title under joint tenancy so on her death the house and orchard went to Trudy.  I felt like the black sheep, why did Mom say she loved me but only gave me $13,000 and gave my sister a house and business?  It just didn’t make sense.  What had I done to her to deserve this?

“Hey, you ever been afraid?” I asked.

“Of course, everyone has.”

“Tell me about a time, please.” I said.

She went on to describe getting a flat tire on a dark country road.  As she was walking to the nearest farm house about a km away, she heard something behind her.  It was shuffling along the gravel and she could hear it breathing.  She walked faster.  It kept up with her.  She started singing to scare it off and to calm her fears but the only song she could think of was “Happy Birthday” so decided it would have to do. Three rounds later she noticed the animal was still following her.  Steeling herself against a possible attack, she turned to face it and saw it was a porcupine that did not seem to be stopping.  Turning once again and walking as fast as she could, she managed to get to safety before it attacked her.  

“What did you think it would do to you?” I asked.

“Hurt me,” she said.

“Oh.” 

Then I told her my story of being stalked by an animal. I was fifteen and was in the habit of walking home across the field late after my night shift at the restaurant on the highway ended.  I could always hear the coyotes howling before I left, but as I was in the middle of the field, with only the moonlight, the coyotes were silent, watching.  I imagined them circling me, waiting.  I was getting ready, too. I held my purse by the strap, ready to swing it at the first coyote who attacked me.  I would knock him out and pick him up by the legs, swinging him around at the other coyotes.  I would defend myself with a vengeance.

Trudy didn’t say anything for a long time after I shared that.  

“You know what?” I said.

“What?”

“Let’s stop at a pot shop and get a little something for after we say goodbye to Mom.  I just really need to laugh and relieve the stress a little.  I know it seems inappropriate, just that’s how I get through the hardships of life.”

Things seemed a little less tense after that and we travelled through a few towns before we finally stopped at DQ for chicken snack packs and diet colas.  I spied a pot shop two blocks down from the restaurant and suggested we go in.  

This shopping experience was all new.  Product was displayed in glass cases and everything was clean and white.  Last time I bought weed I was standing by a dumpster outside of the truck  stop I worked at.  I didn’t know what CBD or THC was and I didn’t know the difference between Sativa and Indica.  It all sounded like a different language to me.  Finally, after the store clerk was so kind as to educate us, we picked up a couple foil packs of peach mango gummies.  

“Hey, let’s split one right now,” I said, fighting to tear open the silver wrapper.

One hour later, while driving through a provincial park, I mentioned I’d like some junipers for the front of my house, like the ones that were lining both sides of the road.  “Yup, there looks like a zillion or more out here,” I said.  Ten minutes later, I was stopped on the shoulder, getting out of the car, looking both ways for possible witnesses, and running up the side of the hill with a crowbar to dig out a few junipers.  

“Someone’s coming,” Trudy called.  

So I dropped the tool and crouched down like I was peeing. Yup, right there on the side of the highway, in broad daylight, on a hill covered in junipers, with my pants still up.  I could barely stay balanced, I was laughing so hard.  

I snagged two junipers that time, but wanted more.  So the next time I got a little smarter and hung my coat out of the trunk, draping it over the license plate, and dashed to a little juniper right next to the car.  Working fast, I dug it up and moved on to three more before another vehicle approached.  I ran back to the car, dropping the crowbar next to the tire and feeling exhilarated when the vehicle passed without stopping.  

“Damn, that was fun,” I said.  “I think I’ve got enough now, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the power of pot.” 

“Hey, maybe we should start a weed store,” I said.  “We could name it Giggles.”

“Yeah,” she said.  And we could have different displays with fun names like Lazy Boy for Indica and Frequent Flyers for Sativa.”

“How about the Frugal Noodle for bulk products and Fun-da-Mentals for pre-rolled joints?  And we could have a section called The Good Stuff for a little higher THC content.

We were on a roll now and the drive became much easier.  “I’d like to pick up a few flat rocks for the yard too,” I said, grinning.  So the hunt began and Trudy spied the ditches for great looking rocks.

A little while later we came up to a rugged cliff face glistening with a multitude of tiny waterfalls and a pile of black slate at its base. That’s the place, I thought.   I stood on the edge of the ditch, looking at the violent heap of black shards and I really wondered if I wanted them in my front yard. They looked so menacing.  Well, the house is blue, and black and blue go well together, I reasoned.  So I stepped into the ditch and started to pull up a few pieces of the rock.  Once they were loaded into the trunk I sat in the driver’s seat, again.  

“Can I tell you about something that’s bothering me?” I asked.

“I think I know what it is,” she said.

“I want half the estate,” I said.

“It’s not that easy,” she said.  “I have heirs too.”

“There is a way,” I said, and went on to explain the land could be subdivided.  She tilted her head, encouraging me to go on.  You have your own orchard, and I believe your main concern is the house for you and Tony.  We could split out the house and 20 acres and leave Mom’s orchard intact for me.  

She was silent for a while and pulled out her phone to look at the layout of the land on Google Maps.  “I’m just trying to see how the land could be divided,” she said, showing me the digital map she had sectioned off into eighths with grid lines.  “I want to see if we can make what’s left after the subdivision work for us.”

“Hey, that’s 40 acres,” I said.

“Yes, it is.”

“Nope, only the house and 20 acres, I called the Rural Municipality and those are the subdivision rules,” I said. “I don’t understand why you need the orchard anyway, your and Tony’s business is five times the size of Mom’s.  I just feel it’s so unfair that you got it all and I’m worried about my retirement.  And there’s nothing left of my family for me to pass on to my kids.  And I feel unwanted and uncared for, I feel as though I have no place in this family .”

Nothing was said for a long time, each of us lost in a hurricane of emotions.  I was tired of driving and I thought about pulling over for a little rest, but, gripping the steering wheel with both hands, I plowed on, thinking of reasons why she wouldn’t subdivide.  Shifting through the memories of heartfelt talks with my sister, I remembered sharing my tax problem with her.  I hadn’t paid taxes for seven years and CRA had given me thirty days to get them submitted. She had sympathized with me, telling me she hadn’t done her taxes for fourteen years.  And then she went on to say that no one knew, not Tony, not Mom, no one.  She said every year she got hives at tax time thinking about how she had so much to do and that there was no way she could get it done.  She said she hadn’t meant to leave it that way, just that it caused her so much stress at tax time and one girl at work had said she hadn’t done her taxes for two years and nothing had been done about it by CRA.  For my sister, the first year of skipped tax filing slipped into two, and so on until it became fourteen years.  Hmmm . . . I wondered, it’s now twenty-one years later and I wonder if those taxes are still unpaid.  Is that why she won’t subdivide?  Does she know how much this hurts me and is her fear just holding her back?  

Softening my grip on the wheel, I leaned back on the seat and watched the road as I drove.  “You know,” I said, people often think of the crow as a predator who eats baby birds. If you Google crow symbolism you’ll see it’s actually a pretty important bird that brings messages of inner truth and change.  Sometimes,” I went on, “change seems really scary to go through, but the outcome is incredibly good.”  Trudy looked at me, giving me encouragement to continue.  

“I wonder how those taxes are coming.  Do you need any help getting them done?” I asked.

Her head dropped and shoulders started to heave.  “It’ll be okay,” I said.  “Just start talking about it, people won’t judge.  You need help, confess it to Tony, let the secret out.  Look how it’s holding you back, look at the ripple effect it’s having.  It’ll be ok, Trudy.”

There was no other response.  As we drove on in silence, the tension in the car grew until it was like the rope during a tug-of-war marking the end of field day in grade school.  Kilometers passed and my feelings changed.

I was flooded with sadness as I passed by apple, plum and peach orchards and realized I would probably never own a piece of my great grandmother’s homestead.  The trip was becoming unbearable and I drove a little faster to Eagle Point where we were to release Mom.  

Turning off the highway and onto the service road I tried one last time:  “You okay?” I asked.

She didn’t even look up.

“Okay, well, we’re here.  Might as well get this done,” I said.

Reaching into the back seat, I pulled out the heavy cardboard box that held the remains of our mother.  “Well Mom, I thought, I guess this is the end.”

“It’s time,” I said, and stepped out of the car, walking to the edge of the cliff.  I waited a few minutes and Trudy never came out.  “I’m doing this by myself if you don’t come out now,” I said.

Her face was set with anger as she threw open the car door and strode to the cliff edge.  I opened the box and handed it to her, but she didn’t take it.  So I dumped the contents, watching the grey/black dust swirl upward in a dirty cloud before scattering into eternity.

The task was finished and we walked back to the car in silence, each willing to be away from the other.  As I drove back down the hill I was stuck by the hostile boulders hanging precariously on the edge of the cliff as if they could just let loose and hurl their disgust at me for invading their territory, crushing me like a wrecking ball.  I kept an eye on the stern rock face as I steered the car back home to safety.  

The long drive home was silent as I struggled to come to terms with my loss, not only of my mother, but also my inheritance and any hope of friendship with my sister.  Then, when we were passing what seemed like  the final stone wall of the trip, one boulder had had enough and I hurled it’s hate directly at me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it’s intent to destroy me and in a split second I jerked the wheel, missing the impact, but put my sister right in the danger zone.  

Thud, the rock bounced on the car roof, directly over her head.  “Oh God,  what have I done?” I thought.  Speeding past the brutishness, I slammed on the brakes and looked at my dear sister, huddled under the crushed roof, her face like death.  “Trudy, Trudy, are you okay?”

Her terrified eyes pointed at me.  I couldn’t tell if she was thinking I had just pushed her in front of a moving train and was waiting for me to finish her off, or if she was like a rabbit trapped in a snare with the scent of a hungry timber wolf in the wind and I was a kind hearted hiker who would release her. 

“I know you’re scared.  I’ll get you some help’.  They’ll cut you out of there.  You’re going to be okay,” I said.

Cell phones are fantastic and a 911 call brought firefighters and paramedics who discharged her with care and expertise.

*****

It’s five years later, and my partner and I are relaxing on the deck eating warm, fresh baked crisp made from apples, pears, and plums picked from the trees we planted on our acreage.    With tender care, I reach over and pluck out the fly that’s swimming in his coffee.  “Don’t think you’re ready for wings with your dessert,” I said.

******

A skunk protects itself with a mighty stink that fades with a special cleansing and the passage of  time, but one never forgets the experience.

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