Vivi swings the door open, wearing her rubber boats, with a snack in hand. We’re about to go on a walk but it’s not just any walk, it’s a hunt. We’re on a mission to find a robin. We’ve been desperate to see one ever since Scoops (the local ice-cream stand) opened this season. Desperate because, according to our family by-laws, no one is allowed out for ice-cream until the first robin sighting. And whoever sees the robin decides where we go for treats.
I’m beginning to feel like a lily-handed city girl as friends and neighbours report their own sightings. “We’ve had them around the farm for weeks,” says Violet. Krista tells me she saw five in her backyard and another neighbour can’t believe we haven’t seen any. “Now it’s our turn,” I announce to Vivi as she eats lunch in the stroller and we wheel onto our regular route.
About a 100 metres along I see movement on my left. Under the pine, behind a stand of red-osier dogwood appears potential. I steal away from the stroller, pacing the perimeter of the bushes, then drop to my knees to get a better look. Vivi tries to get out of the stroller just when a gust of wind sends both of them sailing. She yelps and I quickly put my finger to my lips–this is no time for screaming, not now when I’m just about to close in. All I need is a flash of the bird’s signature red breast.
I see Vivi squinting her eyes at me and grinning. I have a feeling the most exciting part, for her, has nothing to do with our avian search. Vivian is so used to seeing the back of my head while I drive the van; my rear end while I stand at the kitchen sink; my calves tangled around the stool while I sit in front of the laptop, that my current posture is curiously thrilling for her. She crouches beside me, both of us pressing knees and hands into muddy grass, craning for a better look.
“There it is! There it is! Do you see it, Vivi?”
Vivian turns to face me. “Boo Boo Bubble” she whispers loudly, confirming the sighting with her favourite ice-cream flavour. Mission accomplished.
Once we offer the robins sunflower seeds and other residual crumbs from the stroller, thanking them for returning north, we celebrate our victory. “We did it,” I cry, giving Vivian a high-five. “We’re the first ones to see a robin!”
That evening, the wind blows cold while we walk to Scoops. We wear long underwear, toques, mitts and winter parkas. (Belén urges me to please take off my fur-lined hood when we walk past the skate park.) No other customers are at the ice-cream stand when we arrive. Yesterday would have been more pleasant, and certainly the more sensible day for cold treats, but it simply wasn’t an option. Not according to the ritual.
Vivian does, indeed, order Boo Boo Bubble–most of it ending up on her jacket, the cement and the garbage can. I don’t order anything at all; I don’t even like ice cream. Sometimes the anticipation, the wait, the hype associated with a ritual is better than the ritual itself.