I walk south toward my old neighborhood with my lime green umbrella, carrying my shade. I got it in my head I might want to change the location of my writing retreat in November. So today I walk south to find David, who I knew from convivial impromptu gatherings of neighbors in the street at dusk, who has a beautiful inn there in a bend of the road where cicadas meet to sing, to see if this might be a spot for us. Two young people stare at me when I open the door to the lobby. They are cool toward me, stiff. David doesn’t own the hotel anymore. I leave and walk north, past David’s old house. It looks the same, bougainvillea spilling over the brick wall. I didn’t know how much I was looking forward to our brief reunion, that welcome and warm mutual regard. I feel tears pushing, but I know the sadness in me is bigger than this grief. What comes next is the way the young man and woman in the lobby seemed to freeze, how they believed I didn’t belong there, and now I do cry because I am weary of people making me feel like I am less than. (I think of people of color, then, about having moments like this all the time.) So, I carry my shade, and I carry my sadness, softer now, held low against my belly with kindness, and I walk north. I cross the creek bed and let the wildness of the ravine seep into me. When I am on the other side, the church bells begin. I stand in the shade of a big desert willow and listen to the bells ring the noon hour, umbrella dangling, eyes closed. In the quiet after, I hear a small bird calling in the willow. A cicada starts it’s song, and a breeze comes. I stand there for a long time, taking it in, the big gift of it all washing through me. Then I walk north again, toward home, carrying my shade.
Chris Erskine, one of my favorite columnists at the L.A. Times, was kind enough to reply to my email years ago. I remember he talked about how writing a column or a blog can be hard because we’re dependent on what happens in our lives. It was the first time I understood the contrast for me, how it moves between plethora and dearth. Because today I want to come back to those two hummingbirds in my living room whose visit I completely missed when I was having a difficult conversation on the phone the other day. And the last time I was on my bird walk, how I was focused on a woodpecker in a nearby oak, when the man beside me said, “Oh, look, a deer.” I glanced up only long enough to see him, to note his short antlers, and went back to looking at the woodpecker. After, I felt terrible. I went looking for the young buck but couldn’t find him. “I’m sorry,” I told the man later when I’d caught back up to the group. “I shouldn’t have let bird trump buck.” But two weeks later, I still feel sad about it, lying on my back in the courtyard after my yoga. I feel sad I was unable to transfer my attention in that moment. I adore deer. If I’d made a real choice, I would have stopped, breath caught in my chest, and watched the deer in wonder. It is still a grief in me, no ease in forgiving myself, in letting even small things like this go. It comes to me I may need to allow the sadness in more when it first arises. Maybe even one brief full moment would do the trick. Maybe an apology to the buck? I coax myself in letting go. I am only human. I’ll miss moments. I’ll mess up others. I’ll get good at forgiving myself. May I rejoice in the times I remember to stop.
I don’t know how to stop. When I’m alone, I’m better. When I bump my head on the kitchen cabinet or the third time I try to send an email it still doesn’t work, often I stop long enough to recognize the universe is trying to tell me something. Sometimes I can really stop and redirect myself. But with people it can feel impossible. It is a hot, humid afternoon. I am siting on the couch in the living room talking on the phone. I’m frustrated, impatient, and it’s coming through the sound of my voice. I’m trying to resolve something, unwilling to step back and let it go for now. Two hummingbirds fly in through the open louvers, but I am so wrapped up in my own disturbance, I don’t even look at them. Only a small, distant part of me even knows they have come inside. They spiral together, one glimpse from the corner of my eye. I moderate the tone of my voice on the phone, drop back to a kinder delivery, but I do not drop all the way back down to myself. Later, it makes me sad. The universe sent these amazing creatures on my behalf, tiny luminescent messengers meant to help me, and I missed the whole thing. I did recalibrate, and I’m glad for that. But I was so closed up in my limited experience I missed the magnificence of the moment. I didn’t drop down to bedrock, didn’t welcome those two little beings, didn’t touch awe or gratitude. But tonight I don’t berate myself. I touch the sadness, yes, the disappointment. But I remind myself we live in a generous universe. We get lots of chances. I’m just going to keep trying to pay better attention. I’m going to believe I can learn to stop even in the heart of my disturbance. I’m going to keep aiming myself for the next time, or the next. Or maybe the time after that.
I sweep the courtyard in the morning heat. It is covered with seed casings and feathers and the odd dried bougainvillea blossom. I am sick of the mess. I remind myself I love my birds, that this is a small price to pay. I know this because decades ago I was vacuuming just after my dog Sanji died, and I smelled her warmed fur in the machine. I cried thinking about all the times I resented her hair on the furniture, how much dirt she brought in, how I would so gladly deal with it now if only I could have her back. Still, I am grumpy and resentful of the daily bird mess. The hot, humid air only makes it worse. I am angry with myself for not hosing down the cement, for wanting to wait until I’d be home for a longer stretch to enjoy it, setting up the umbrella, bringing out the pillows. I am angry at myself for wanting it all to be perfect at the same time. I know the daily bird mess would feel less overwhelming if the cement wasn’t so spotted with bird poop, so filthy sweeping seems to make little difference. I think of all the birds partying here when I am gone, living it up all over the courtyard. They don’t do that when I’m home. Still, I am pulled down by my grumpiness. I sweep beside the edge of the cement and look down. There is a small mango nestled in the dirt. It stops me, it’s soft greens and golds, the smoothness of its skin when I pick it up. I rest the mango on my open palm, look at the sturdy little tree who has been so abundant this summer. She has jasmine and a wild vine with trumpet flowers looping about her, but she seems content. I remember how lucky I am, how much I have, how much I am given, always. I look up and see the last quarter moon in the blue sky, another gift. I slough off my discontent. It is heavy, anyway. I let the earth swallow it. I lean the broom against the washing machine, wrap both hands around the mango, chastened. “I promise to savor it,” I tell the tree. I carry the mango inside to the cooler air, grateful.
I stay up past 2am, surprise myself by sleeping until almost nine. I’m allowing myself bizarre behavior, working until late, getting up most days between seven and eight, deep sleep again in the afternoon or early evening. My nights keep growing later and later, my naps, too. I can’t tell if this is crazy dumb or something else, some new allowance on my part, not listening to the insistent logic of the gatekeeper, a good thing, maybe. I know it’s opened something up in my days, knowing I can begin again fresh each evening, knowing there is a long stretch of the night ahead of me. In past years, I trained myself to be up by 5:30 or 6am, the thing to do in desert heat, a chance to be outside. This morning I am leery stepping out into the courtyard, testing the air, but even at 9am I am okay. Saved, still, by our delicious, short summer, only four months this year instead of six or seven, so in August I am not yet used up by the long trudge of it, and already it is lessening. Subtle changes, the peak heat not lasting as long, the temperatures easing back when the sun disappears behind the mountains. Today I am late, though, so for now I sweep only the bit I need to lay down my yoga mats, the thin old purple one on top of the shorter, thick, bright orange one I had to cut off because the young desert rats chewed on it during their inadvertent run of the trailer. I watch the shade move across the cement and begin my yoga just in time. I salute the sun again and again. But I linger too long in chavasana, so the sun itself catches me at the end, only half my body left in the disappearing shade. I went deep, though, so it doesn’t matter. I come to sitting, slowed, opened up, grinning. Namaste.
How can I describe it? We have a short stretch of hot days. It tops out at 122 degrees. One afternoon I hear birdsong. I follow it to the bathroom, peek around the green towel hanging on the shower rod. There is an old, weathered female house finch singing on the open louvers in the little window above the bathtub. I am charmed but baffled until I realize she is coming for the air, both the swamp cooler and the A/C on, all the windows wide open because I can’t live with them closed. I am used to the hummingbirds coming to rest on the one set of louvers without a screen, but this is new. The next day there are four house finch in the bathroom window. One is eating sunflower seeds. Later, I am working on my laptop in the living room, and I hear them on the louvers not two feet from where I sit typing. They are hidden behind the purple curtains, maybe seven of them. How do I say what it’s like to have them so near? They are almost inside my home, a magical visitation, but practical and smart of them, too. It is a dearness to know they are so close to me on the couch, their songs, chirps, their tender small selves, all feathers and air, all sweetness and light, like tiny angels calling, like crossings from another world, like family. It is like nothing I’ve ever known before. When they leave, I wonder if they were a dream.