I’m taking a class at UBC to refresh my freelance writing skills. I haven’t written a query letter or feature article in years, so it’s humbling and invigorating to be back in the classroom, albeit 100 percent online.

Jennifer van Evra is teaching the course. I was already a big fan of her work when I signed up, and my respect has deepened over the last few weeks. Not only is she a gifted storyteller and researcher, she approaches everything she does with an abiding curiosity that is both inspiring and enriching.

The short piece below is from an assignment on the value of description. Jennifer gave me some tremendous feedback so I’m delighted to share it. Like many others, finding ways to connect with the outside world during this gruelling pandemic has been vital. The crows and other birds that visit our balcony are a great source of joy in this unfathomable time.

We call her Muffin

The crow lands on the balcony railing, claws clattering against the black metal.

She pauses, cocks her head, looking up, down, beak opening and closing in anticipation. She shimmies along the railing, flapping her wings in the morning light.

Four peanuts are lined up next to a planterbox of purple petunias, carefully placed there at 9 a.m. sharp every day since April. An offering and invitation for these misunderstood corvids.

A seagull shrieks overhead and a siren wails along Broadway. Nasturtiums spill over clay pots, a single strawberry struggles to ripen. Tomatoes hang heavily on the vine, roses shed white petals on the floral outdoor carpet. The sun casts dappled shadows on the wicker loveseat. A paper wasp decoy sways in the breeze. Petunias reach out and up towards the sun like exuberant teenagers at a rock concert.

The crow crams the peanuts into her beak then pauses, head turned to assess her own reflection in the window then flies to the building roof.  

Other birds have discovered this balcony refuge: chickadees, hummingbirds, flickers, each with their own distinctive calls. Each is drawn to this oasis of plants amid the balcony desert, this place of refuge that didn’t exist until lockdown. This unlikely garden inviting the birds of Kitsilano to rest and refuel.

The crow will return tomorrow, skittish and reluctant but drawn to the promise of pandemic peanuts.

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