The Bird Man of Annecy

I don't notice the man at first. Nor the birds. What I notice first is the bicycle.


It's not an extraordinary looking bicycle, just a regular old thing, leaning on its stand next to a bench underneath one of the huge trees that scatter across the Jardin de l'Europe.


It is a warm autumn day, the trees have already begun shedding their leaves. Those that remain are losing their fight to stay on the branches. They twirl down in the cool breeze, landing on the grass or falling onto the wide path that skirts the outside of the park and follows the curve of the huge Lake Annecy, water so blue and clear it looks like a mini-Mediterranean Sea.


Almost immediately after noticing the bike, I see the birds. A small flock of tiny sparrow-like birds sitting all over it as if they just decided all at once to swing down from the trees to sit on this piece of metal instead. Like some kind of ornithological groupthink.


I walk past and disturb the birds. They fly en masse across the path and towards the lake. And that's when I see the man.


He is perched on top of the railings that run around the edge of the path. Behind him, on the other side of the railings, white boats of all sizes sway and bob on the lake's shallow waters.


The man is tanned, in his sixties and wears glasses. He wears a blue or black flat cap, blue jacket and jeans.


He doesn't flinch when the birds fly towards him. After they've gone, he slides down from the railings and moves over to the bike.


I am sitting now, a few benches down from the one the bike is parked next to. I see him take something from his black shoulder bag and place it on different parts of the bike; the seat, that bit at the back where you put your shopping.


The bike is covered with little containers which he refills with food for his feathered friends.


He takes up position on the railings again. The lake behind him expands outwards towards the mountains. The water glints in the sunshine and gently slaps against the expensive-looking boats.


The birds fly back past him, land on the bike.


He holds his arm up in the air and one of the small birds flies onto his hand to eat the food he is holding out. It flits back to the bike and other birds take its place, they take turns flying back and forth from bike to hand.


Someone walks by, stops and tries to take a sneaky photo. The man sees this and smiles, so the passerby holds his phone up, takes the shot and gives the man a thumbs up.


I wonder if this time with the birds is his only happy moment in the day. I hope not. I don't think it is. He is too at ease and patient, trusting and trusted, to imagine his life being anything other than filled with moments like this.


Or maybe it's this place, Annecy. Here, sitting in the sunshine, surrounded by mountains and other people strolling by or sitting at the water's edge, it's easy to imagine a life that could be one long, expansive, sprawling, beautiful moment in which hanging out with birds by the side of a lake plays just a small part.