One year ago today was a Monday, the first true day I counted for living in our new old trailer home. We moved on Saturday, and Sunday I spent hours at Avenida Ortega, cleaning, digging up palm starts, making piles, the last odds and ends of our life there. I remember sitting outside in the courtyard on Monday morning, surrounded by most of my belongings. The palo verde was the only life here then besides me and the cats. I caught movement to my right. A verdin with his wash of yellow landed in the tree. I remember thinking it was a good omen. I felt off kilter. Our first night, I walked out to the street to smoke a cigarette. I was determined not to bring that here, not to begin that way in our new home. When I came back, I’d locked myself out. I tried to break in but couldn’t. I hunted around the piles of things, managed to find the phone book, called a locksmith. Then I sat in the moonlight on one of the bar stools and waited. The courtyard was filled with eery mountains of things, ghostlike in the half light. I wasn’t afraid. I dozed off, jerked awake again. The cats must have thought I was crazy. Why didn’t I come to bed? Today instead of phantom towers, the courtyard has three trees in big pots, two bougainvillea and a honeysuckle in the earth. Today, I have a house key hidden. Today, I do yoga underneath the stars. I lie on the mat and look up at the outlines of blossoms on the palo verde, silhouettes against the dark sky. I’m not off kilter anymore. But the cats still think I’m crazy.
Today I can feel myself getting better. I hope I can sleep tonight. I don’t think I’ve had the stomach flu since I was a child. I have a hard time believing it now, even after three nights of little sleep. And being who I am, I can’t help but wonder. Why did I get sick? How did I catch it? I think of the blackberries I bought at the farmer’s market. They looked dark and succulent. I was disappointed when I pulled them out of the narrow cardboard flat where they nestled with the two baskets of strawberries. What a gyp, I thought, seeing how shallow their container was, a third of the depth of the box, if that. I ate one unwashed. It was sour. They were all sour. But did I allow in that snatch of thought, that maybe they were unclean? Is that why I got sick, because I didn’t banish the thought? Is that how I got sick, from someone with this crummy flu packing blackberries? Or was I vulnerable because of my intense day of writing last week with Laurie, over six hours of writing and reading our work, and the stunning voicemail waiting for me when I got home that evening? Or even better, did I get sick to somehow mark my transition to the next thing? My spring break felt like a passage in itself, this accidental holiday filled with big days. Semana Santa. Passover. The lunar eclipse. April 18th. Then our big writing day embedded in the heart of it. Was having the flu a way to mark the changes, the ending of my big week, to begin again anew? A cleansing, both the figurative and the literal, the universe’s odd sense of humor? Because there is something unmistakable about recovering from even so brief an illness. A sense of returning to yourself, the adding on of layers that were stripped away, until you feel like yourself again but not quite the same, as though the layers were placed back at different angles, or as if they stretched or shrank in the peeling off process. Today I wriggle in my new skin. I hope tomorrow I wake up fully me.
I dream of cats and hummingbirds. I am in a small walled outdoor space where a cement slab overhang juts out from the building. There is an airy gap between the overhang and the top of the wall, open sky visible to the southwest. I meet a skinny Calico girl cat who makes me want to love her. Reluctant, I put her down. I don’t want to collect more animals because one day I need to be free to walk the Camino de Santiago. There are many of us in the walled space, mostly birds and mammals, I believe, though besides meeting the cat I don’t focus in. I sense this place is a shelter for all life though maybe not of this world. I am with a younger woman who I don’t know. She lives here, I think, or works here, and is showing me around. She has a pale, narrow face and dyed black hair that falls straight and glossy below her shoulders. There is an iridescent purple near her left cheek, a big metal earring catching the light, or maybe a streak of color in her black hair. I watch as a hummingbird alights near her right shoulder, makes itself comfortable against her neck. The woman is unsurprised. “Oh my,” I say. I gape at them. “Never before,” I breathe. And then I feel a fluttering near my own shoulder, my left. I know without being able to see it is a hummingbird. She nestles into the dip above my collar bone. I know by the quick movements of her beak she is preening, supported by my body. The feel of her reminds me of the same trusting way Boo will lean against me in bed, his gentle weight rocking as he licks his black fur clean. My heart goes soft with memory and with the tiny bird cradled against me now, the honor I feel, this gift of surrender. After, I stand awake before the bathroom mirror curious to see how much room she really had. I rub my fingers back and forth along the curved space behind my collar bone. I can still feel her soft fluttering against my skin.
I can hear the crickets through the open windows. Sofia is snoozing in the bathroom sink. (I almost yelped the first time I walked in and saw her there, so unexpected, like finding a tiger in the bathtub.) Sable is asleep at the foot of the bed. My eyes are heavy, but I want to post this tonight. April 8th, a summer night for anywhere normal. I’m not used to the heat yet, so today’s 96 degrees or so felt hot, but the night is gentle, soothing warmth. Long luxurious day but going since early morning. Qi gong class, then celebrating my birthday with Mami and Auntie Gardi, then easy weekly grading and finishing my four daily things. The three of us walked to lunch, my yummy yellow lentil dal. Opened presents under the umbrella here in our courtyard, all bright colors, paper and fabrics, yellow tulips, orange star flowers in the red and orange metal pot. I made iced coffee, and they oohed and ahhhed the garden, enjoyed “my” birds. I think it was a grosbeak who came to the small tray feeder, then hopped into the palo verde before he flew away. I read they were passing through. Sofia played with the ties of Auntie Gardi’s blouse, cheered us all to see it. Mami got teary when they left. I remember crying every time I drove away from her house. I’d forgotten. Now she drives me to the train station. Their visit stretched the hours, no rushing, like summer days as a kid. Now I listen to the crickets in the rich dark, a sleepy, lucky 56-year-old who’s completed the first of her 56 posts.
I am riding across the bridge on Sunrise in the afternoon weeks later. I glance down toward the golf course and see a handful of egrets wading in the shallow water. It takes me by surprise. I’ve only seen my lone egret all this time. I try to find him in the cluster of birds, but no one looks quite like him. They all seem smaller, less regal. I am flabbergasted in some odd way. Where did they all come from? Does he know they’re here? Could these guys become his friends, his family? Later I see my neighbors on the creek path. They ask me if I’ve seen the egret. Yes, I tell them. And I tell them about the ones I saw by the overpass. They seem as surprised as I am. I think about the photographer, about the man in the red hat. I wonder how many more we are, imagine scores of us each having a relationship with this one exquisite bird. What did our egret think of all our attention? And then for a moment I wonder if he is more than an egret.
On the way home from the farmer’s market, I take a detour on my bike to see how much water is in the creek. I see two men, one standing very still with a big brown dog sitting at his feet, the other wielding a camera with a large telephoto lens. I slow way down as I ride past them, not wanting to disturb his shot. Then I see the egret standing in the middle of the creek. I keep going, afraid if I stop he might decide to leave the camera’s eye. I turn around at the bridge and stop to see the egret on the way back. The photographer and his companions are gone, but there are two men watching the egret from the path on the opposite side of the creek. One is wearing a red hat. I think I get almost as much pleasure looking at them as I do the egret. It makes me feel so good to know they treasure him, too. We all stand watching for a long time. The men move off, and the egret leaves, too. I watch him fly south, weaving his way between the fan palms. I turn my head for a moment when a bicyclist comes by, and when I look back the egret has disappeared. I wonder if he’s my morning egret. The day feels like it’s come full circle.
The first thing I see this morning when I raise my head from the pillow is the new snow on our mountain. The sun is shining and the mountain lies beneath the shadow of a big cloud, so the snow stands out even more against the darkness of the shadowed earth and rock. I revel in the glory of it, our impressive mountains capped in white, like holiday gear, and I watch a lone egret flying west, sunlight on his large white wings, stark against the shadowed mountain. Is this “my” egret from the golf course? I put my head back down again. I’m glad for these two white wonders. What a sweet way to begin my weekend.