Monday, January 12, 2015

Hello! I'm With You!

American Robin
Prior to our trips to the UK, my husband and I occasionally had some friendly banter over robins. Yes, you did read that correctly. Robins. I grew up thinking that our large American Robins were the only robins in town. Naturally my English husband doesn't share my opinion. To Denis, the (European) Robin is the only "proper robin" that need be spoken of. Whenever he said this, I'd smile indulgently and think no more of it. All that changed on our first trip to the UK.

On our very first morning, we woke up in our lovely, snug room at the Seven Stars in Hay-on-Wye, ate a full English breakfast, and loaded up the car. There was a problem with the rental car, and Denis had to exchange it in a city some miles away, leaving me to my own devices in the book capital of the UK.

A "Proper Robin" in Wales
While Denis and I made arrangements to meet at the clock tower in the center of town when he came back, I kept hearing birdsong. This was the first time in my life when all the birdsong was completely strange to me, which-- I have to admit-- I found a bit thrilling. The birdsong wouldn't stop and even seemed to be getting closer. 

Then I looked up into the branches of a tree and saw this fellow to the right watching us closely and singing his little heart out. "There you go!" Denis exclaimed. "Now that's a proper robin!" The robin kept singing in the tree and allowed me to take a few photos of him. I thanked him for his courtesy. Denis left, and I began wandering the streets of Hay-on-Wye. It's probably my imagination, but I'd like to think that the robin I saw a few times on the outskirts of town and again outside the library was the very same one that let me take his picture.

On our second trip to the UK, we spent a week in a cottage on the shore of a sea loch on the Isle of Skye. Almost within stone's throw was Dunvegan Castle. In fact, it was the first thing we saw from our front window. I watched a rainbow form over the castle while rabbits played and oyster catchers probed for tender morsels beneath its walls. It was magical. 

A "Proper Robin" in Scotland
I spent one day of our week at the castle in their gardens which were laid out in the eighteenth century, and I picked up a companion in the kitchen garden. You guessed it. A robin. The robin kept an eye on me throughout my walk through the kitchen garden. I saw it again at the monkey puzzle tree, and I saw it again-- several times-- in the water garden where I sat to read for an hour or two. Either I was very strange-looking to the curious little bird, or it wanted to make sure I was enjoying myself. The robin was my only companion that afternoon while I took photos and sat down on a comfortable bench to read a Denise Mina mystery. (When in Scotland, read a Scottish writer!)

So yes, I have pleasant memories of those cheeky little birds, but when I read the following line in a book recently, my imagination took flight.

"Robins usually mean a lost loved one is trying to say hello."

I had wanted to travel to the UK since I was eight years old, so these trips-- especially the very first one-- were so exciting to me. But I couldn't prevent a tiny hint of sorrow to invade my thoughts. My mother and my grandmother-- the two people responsible for my knowing of my Scottish and English roots-- always wanted to travel to the UK... and they never did. I allowed myself to feel the sadness for a moment, then I vowed to see as much as I could while we were there in honor of the two most important women in my life.

Now... could it be that there's a grain of truth in that old saying about robins representing lost loved ones trying to say hello? Why not? My mother and grandmother loved birds and passed that love on to me. What better way for them to tell me, "Hello! I'm with you!" as I walked the land they'd always wanted to see? I can see my mother the librarian thinking the book capital of the UK was the best place to "make contact," and my grandmother, who loved her garden and her kitchen, would certainly choose the kitchen garden of a castle, wouldn't she?

It's probably foolish and sentimental, but that one line in a book and those two little birds so filled with personality make me feel as if my mother and grandmother did make their trip to the UK after all.


  1. What a lovely story, Cathy! I'm sure that your mother and grandmother would have been warmed by the fact that you thought of them and took that trip for them. Maybe the robin was just reminding you that we are never that far from those we've loved.

  2. This is a great story. It's so good to know of the proper robin in Britain.
    I love hearing robins in the wee hours of the morning here, and realize, to my
    dismay, that I didn't hear any birdsong last spring. I think it's because I've had
    to close my windows because the custodian next door moves the recyclables
    early in the morning and the noise wakes me up. But then I miss the robins
    and other birds.

    And what I used to hear: conversations, squawking, singing, probably 10 different sounds.

    And it's lovely what robins' songs mean. Glad to see the link with your mother and grandmother.

  3. Lucky you! I have yet to see a "proper Robin," but it's on my list. Great post--made me want to pack my bags and through in my binoculars!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jane. I enjoyed writing it, and I'm looking forward to our next trip to the UK in September. Perhaps I'll see another proper robin. :-)


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