In Zimbabwe, coffee companion’s dream is for Chipo

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 12, 2008

A pair of baby cliff swallows view the world from the security of their “condo-complex” home suspended from the Highway 22 bridge over the Bow River, while a bright red cardinal symbolizes the possibility of peace when colour no longer leads to aggression. Photos by Mike Veloski. Click on photos to view larger images.

Cochrane coffee companion Mike Veloski is an amazing mentor in being alive to what’s around us.

The widely-read wellsite geologist represents for me a beautiful balance between reason and passion. Over the years he has helped me understand scientifically such complex matters as the effects of global warming on the direction of ocean currents. But he has also waxed poetic over his childhood fascination with the music icicles make when you run a stick along them, or the sheer fun experienced by a hummingbird using a banana leaf as its own personal water slide.

Speaking of birds, Mike, an avid birdwatcher, is quite the photographer/philosopher of our fine-feathered friends. The other day he left several of us spellbound as we stood around his laptop computer at Cochrane Coffee Traders, enjoying some of his sizable collection of bird images.

Two of his subjects, in particular, really grabbed my imagination in light of our recent columns on the dream of children having a safe place to sleep at night, and this fall’s U.S. presidential election.

First were his photos of some cliff swallows and their mud dwellings. Using a Canon 40D camera and Canon’s famous 100–400 mm f/4.5 lens, he captured a domestic moment in August beneath the Highway 22 bridge over the Bow River.

The cliff swallows had built themselves a “condo complex” suspended from the beam along the underside of the roadway. A close-up of two baby cliff swallows, about six weeks old, showed them poking their fluffy faces out of their nest to enjoy the world around them. If we can judge a bird’s emotions, they seemed secure and happy, the very image of the peaceful happiness that should be the birthright of all youngsters.

Then there was Mike’s photo of a northern cardinal, taken on his recent trip to western Pennsylvania. He was especially attracted to an intriguing feature of the robin-sized cardinals’ behaviour as he observed them at the bird feeders on the edge of the woods.

“Each year a large number breed and nest in the woods surrounding my folks’ house,” he explained. “During the day the cardinals put on quite a show. Male cardinals furiously chase other males away from the feeders, their bright red colours flashing in the sun. Maybe it’s their bright red colour that inflames the males and makes them so aggressive.”

In view of their combatative daytime ways, he was surprised at something he observed one evening when quite a few cardinals were gathered on the ground beneath the feeders.

“I grabbed my binoculars and went out onto the back porch for a look. After the struggles of the day, there in the dim light of dusk all the cardinals were feeding peacefully, side by side.”

Their appearance-based rivalry faded into forgetfulness as the contrasty, differentiating glare of the sun yielded to a mellow afterglow in which colour was no longer a threat.

And as with Mike’s joyful image of the baby cliff swallows, peace prevailed.

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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