On Wednesday May 22, 2013 I lost a very good friend. Peregrine Falcons "Jack" and "O'Conner" lost the guardian of their yearly children. And the world lost a great man overall... Frank Butson aka: Big Frank
A great photo of Frank with Alex the Great Horned Owl courtesy of Ann Brokelman
Its going on a week now since he passed and I, like many others are shocked, saddened, at a loss and trying to deal with this in our own ways depending on our relationship with the big guy.
I had spoken with him on Tuesday evening, mere hours before his passing. We had a lengthy conversation over the phone and some good laughs at stupid male stuff. I try to find comfort in reflecting upon that last conversation with him and know I made him smile and laugh so close to his death. We all knew his health wasn't great but I had no idea how "not so great" it was. Guys in general don't talk about stuff like that. As I think about our chat that night, I am picking away at it, and really there was a moment near the end of our talk that Frank let me know he needed help. I made a promise to him about something that sadly now I cannot keep; which was to come see him a little more often, perhaps once a month for a few hours.
I live in the west end of the city, Frank lived in the east end. So between work schedules and that traveling across the city bit, we didn't hang out nearly as often as I wished we did. But we kept in pretty regular contact through Facebook, emails and telephone conversations. I know that's really not enough for any relationships but one does the best they can with what they can. I worked 4 days a week for a couple years which enabled us to hang out a little more. Come June each year, and the Peregrine Falcon fledge watches started up, we would catch up quite a bit watching the Etobicoke Sunlife nest site of Jack and O'Conner. I'd meet Frank in the morning along Bloor Street and we'd spend a few hours, sometimes the whole day, watching the chicks so many floors above us. A lot of the time it is like watching paint dry, there isn't a whole lot going on than watching the young go back and forth across the ledge, squawking a lot and occasionally making our hearts beat faster when we think they are about to take that first leap. Of course in most cases it doesn't happen for a number of days after the watch has begun. So we'd have a lot of time to shoot the s**t about anything and everything. The bird chat only goes so long and then the personal stuff starts to flow over time.
Frank was such an easy going guy. He liked most people right off the bat, just don't be an idiot and you had him at "hello". Frank and I are very much alike in that sense. So it was easy to see why we hit it off as friends from the get-go. And for the sake of the baby Falcons, we had to. Couldn't have a couple guys watching these birds that didn't like each other, could we?
The Etobicoke Sunlife Peregrine Falcon fledge watch is going to start up again in about 2 weeks. I can't deny the fact that this is going to be a tough time for me out there putting in time where possible to watch over the baby Falcons. There are some steps to a small Bell building across Bloor Street from Sunlife that we sat at for part of the day. And when the heat came on with the sun, we found shelter for some time at a bench on Bloor. Three years now we've been using that bench during the watch and Angie and I pass it often throughout the year calling it "Frank's bench". I always wanted a photo of Frank and I sitting at that bench, maybe with our bins pointed up to the nest ledge or something. I kick myself now for not asking Angie or someone else present to take the photo for me.
I guess this shot I took the other day, after Frank's passing, is suiting for what I know I will be feeling at times during the watch, the times when nothing is happening, and if it's only me present... empty
Going back to where it all began, Angie and I knew of Frank through a Southern Ontario Birding message board. We would read his posts back in those days and he stood out from so many others. You could sense his passion for the birds and wildlife in general. He was a knowledgeable guy and his writings came out friendly and to the point. A few years later, Frank posted about an upcoming nature trip with a new company called Authentic Canadian Tours called "The Eagles and Owls Tour". Angie and I jumped at the chance to get out and possibly see some birds in a new area and to also meet Big Frank and whoever else hopped on the bus. Well who knew that the outcome would effect our lives so much! We met our host, founder of Authentic Canadian Tours, and now also a good friend of ours Murray Shields. Ann Brokelman is another from that trip. Then there's Peter and I don't know how to say or spell his last name. A kind man we enjoy seeing every now and then at the Rosetta Hawk Watch during Fall migration. And of course, we got to meet Frank as well, who happened to start the Rosetta Hawk Watch some years ago. Here's the blog link.
And it didn't stop there. A few months prior to this trip, I took a nature walk about the Kortright Centre in Vaughan, Ontario. I had never been there before so it was exciting to explore this new area. I had a trail map with me and there was a building marked on the map that said "Falcon Centre" or something, which I soon learned was the Canadian Peregrine Foundation. I fell in love with an Owl at the centre, a European Eagle Owl named "Boo". Somehow this was brought up on the Eagles and Owls tour, and lo and behold, Frank and the gang had associations with CPF. That Spring we came out to the Sportsman Show and helped CPF display their educational birds of prey. We met another good friend of ours nowadays, Tracy Simpson, who is the mother to all CPF's birds. And we met founders Mark and Marion Nash. Angie and I both got to hold Kyla the American Kestrel for starts, which was such a thrill. And more so for me, because I am not one for being the centre of attention... so sitting in a chair with Kyla while hundreds upon hundreds of onlookers stopped to talk to us, take our pictures, was so out of my comfort zone. But I didn't give a shit, I was with a beautiful little Falcon.
Angie and I became volunteers with CPF at the barn, helping Tracy where we could with general chores like cleaning pens. We spent many hours that Spring with Tracy at the barn and heard so many stories from her. Tracy has got to be THE BEST story teller I've ever met. She has so much emotion in her tales, you just hang right on through every word.
And moving ahead another year or so, I'm up at the CPF barn with Frank, Tracy, Ann and Donna when next thing I know, Tracy is bringing Boo out to me. I was a glowing mess having Boo on my hand! You could'a called me bad names, you could'a kicked me in the groin, I wasn't feeling nothing but pure joy hanging out with an Eagle Owl. Boo is such a character, and it's his eyes that got me when I first saw him. He was in a darkened corner, enjoying the shade, so he was so hard to see at first, but those orange eyes... you just can't miss them.
Boo and I that afternoon courtesy of Ann Brokelman
We went to the Rosetta Hawk Watch that fall and were happy to meet Peter from the first trip again. And another name that stands out is Frank's co-watcher/counter... Walter Fisher. Another name from the infamous Southern Ontario Bird board I spoke of earlier. Frank and Walter have been friends for a long time. We now visit the watch once or twice every fall not just for the birds but it's quite the social gathering and nice to see all these east end birders we've gotten to know. There is quite the list of names and you all know who you are if you happen to be reading this. And through CPF and Falcon fledge watches, we also met more people, some of which we now call our friends as well. You guys also know who you are. :)
So, through Frank, a lot of good has happened to us. Yes, I'm speaking mainly for me through this blog... hey, it's my blog! :P
Funny thing is a few I've communicated with since Frank's death have all reflected upon their first meeting with him and have similar stories of the good that came into their life because of him. Frank was the real deal, a genuinely good guy and whether you knew him well or just slightly, you didn't forget him.
I wish I could share all the goofy talks we had but I can't. It's stuff, as I hate to say, we are taking to our graves. I know if I knew Frank 25 years ago, we would have been friends back then. Both being nature nuts, respecting the wildlife and planet... and both loved a good party back then. Our musical tastes were similar although he always told me about my listening to Lamb of God in truck, in his exact words, "that shit is gonna rot your brain". But he never asked me to change the disc if it was on. Usually I'd ensure it wasn't in the player, but if it was, there'd be some joke about it.
Its sad to think that the last time I saw Frank was back in December of 2012. The 17th to be exact. I picked him up at Islington subway and we went birding, Owling, whatever in various parts of the west end. He's seen so much of the east, time for me to get him around to some of my fave spots in the west. I took him to an area where I knew of a Northern Saw-whet Owl that had been hanging out. Of course there's no guarantee of seeing certain wildlife when out, we just went with it, and enjoyed whatever happened to come our way. But luck have it, we spotted the little Saw-whet in a small cedar tree. And Frank's first words were "What a fuckin' little sweetheart!" He was quite happy to see one of these Owls again as it had been a few years since his last sighting. I know some are thinking, "come on Rob, what's with the potty language?" It's just guy talk. Sometimes, like in this moment of viewing such a pretty teeny tiny little Owl, the f-bomb is required to give emphasis on the moment, the bird. No, this Owl, who you may know as Sammy (see my blog) wasn't just a sweetheart, indeed a little more UMPH was needed to describe him.
Don't believe me about the Saw-whet? See for yourself. Dare I say it again? "What a..."
Frank looked at Sam for not much more than a minute, just gazing at him, and he was thrilled to see him. But Frank kept quiet, and contained his excitement. He then took a few photos over the next minute or so and then met me where I was waiting at the path. I told him "no rush" but he said he had his moment, got a few pictures, thanked me and no need to linger. That's Frank for ya, just like me, and some of my other friends, we know when to walk away and leave the wildlife be, especially Owls. On our way out, we passed the Saw-whet's grove of trees again and I asked Frank if he wanted another peek. He said as much as he would like to, it wasn't necessary. He didn't even worry about what his photos looked like, he was just happy with the moment he had. We wandered around other places, then grabbed coffee and sat alongside of Highway 50 and blabbed about who knows what for the next hour. It was nearing time for me to get home, so I dropped him off at the subway, wished each other a Merry Christmas since it was soon upon us and away he went. How the hell could I have known that was the last time I would see him? As I said, we kept in regular touch through the winter and were making plans to meet up again. *sigh*
There are a lot of good people in the world but not everyone do we connect with because of varying interests. And of course, there are a lot of assholes in the world because of varying interests or the simple fact that is what they is and nothing is gonna change that, not even a kick in their backside to smarten up. When you have good people around you, enjoy your time with them, because you just never know when that day is coming and you will never see them again.
RIP Frank. See you on the other side. Just imagine the view of the birds he has up there right now.
Here is Frank on that last day we went out, hand feeding the Black-capped Chickadees. All the wildlife touched his heart, even Earth's tiniest.