Thursday, May 08, 2008


Then of course there is Walter.

Walter, as you may have guessed from his name, is a pigeon. He, or his doppelganger, has hung out at our house for the past three years - spring, summer, fall and winter - always by himself. Walter appears to be a genuine "confirmed bachelor" - only the second one of these I believe I have ever come across.

The other was my Uncle Bill. He was one of my father's three brothers and lived on the first floor of a three story flat with his sister and her husband. My parents and I lived on the third floor from the time I was in fifth grade through my senior year of high school when my father died and my mother moved us in with one of her own sisters.

Uncle Bill was a beer salesman (Schmidt's of Philadelphia); a hunter with a gun rack of several rifles; and a raiser and breeder of beagles, whom he kept in a series of wire kennels in the backyard. The small-hound population ranged from five to twenty-or-so, depending. He sold most of the puppies, keeping one or two from each litter if he thought they had game-dog potential.

When he was home, which he was every night, Uncle Bill was either: in his bedroom cleaning his guns or reading his hunting magazines; out back tending to his Beagles; or doing some hunting-related activity in the center bay of the three car garage in our backyard. His carport contained a refrigerator (for storing beer and game), a small stove (for cooking game), and at various times during the appropriate season, the skins or whatever of the game he had killed. I can remember eating squirrel stew and rabbit stew, and tasting venison - in the garage, but never in the house.

At work Uncle Bill always wore a white dress shirt, tie, and suit. At home he was always in some variation of his hunting clothes. I actually cannot picture him in anything other than his dress clothes or a red plaid wool shirt - but I am sure he didn't wear the latter in the hot summer weather of Connecticut. I imagine that we wore some third outfit to sleep in but that would be an assumption.

It was probably my youth but I always felt like you could feel a circle of peaceful solitude around my uncle - and Walter gives off much the same feeling.

He normally arrives shortly after sunrise and begins picking dutifully among the sunflower seeds that lay scattered under our bird feeders - then leaves quietly after thirty minutes or so. Over the course of a day he repeats this routine several times. Walter looks like a generic pigeon - no dramatic black or white markings, no funky head feathers, not too big or too small - just your average pigeon.

When others arrive on the scene, whether of his or other breeds, he quietly hangs around with them, maintaining a social distance that seems to say, "I am being friendly but not familiar". The squirrels and other birds seem to honor his request for privacy - or at least they don't knock him down or run him over. If some of the other pigeons get romantic Walter simply continues his quiet quest for food, skillfully maintaining his space without impinging on the adjacent tango

Sometimes Walter flies up to the peak of our gable/hip roof and stares down at the yard below. Although all we can make out of the rooftop watchers are their silhouettes, we can always recognize Walter by the amount of space between him and his cohorts.

It's difficult for me to understand the joy of a solitary life - or even the possibility of joy therein. Still I believe that my Uncle Bill, by his nature, was happiest in his solitude. And he was able to carve out a niche in the everyday world that allowed him to live within that circle, as he wanted to.

At least I hope so. And Walter too.

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