I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.
I see the mama coyote again. She’s standing just off the creek path as I walk across the street. I stop at the edge of the road to breathe her in. She still looks unwell, but less so, I think. She’s steadier, somehow. Then a pup appears at the top of the bank, scampers over to her, weaves around her legs in delight at their reunion. It eases something inside me to see them together. The pup is happy, and for long moments this is all that matters. Other people come, and the coyotes disappear back into the creek bed. Two days later, I see the pup down below. He stops behind a scraggly bush, aware of my scrutiny, unsure. I step back, use a softer focus in my gaze. He keeps going, trotting along a small trail, ears too big for his head, all youth, energy, intent. For a moment I worry. (My forte.) He is all by himself. But I remember I trust his mama. And there’s nothing unsure about him. Once he decides I am not a threat, he doesn’t hesitate again. He runs along, so upright, a kind of joy in his little body. I realize he knows his way around, and I relax. I watch until his small form disappears into the brush. All day long, I see him in my mind, so grateful for the gift of him. All day long, he makes his steady way along the creek bed again and again, brown fur against the light sand, an enchanting video clip I play over and over, one that never loses its charm.
I stand on the footbridge and watch the mother coyote in the creek bed below. She’s emaciated and mangy with an odd stub of a tail. She is almost unrecognizable as canine except for her snout. It hurts to look at her, breaks me even more to think of her trying to feed her pups. I stand there for a long time saying metta for her. I am wishing her cottontails. Safety, health, magic. When she disappears into the thick green brush, I head home. As I walk, I dream about bringing her a whole, raw chicken. Is that safe for coyotes? Just past the bridge, a mockingbird is singing in the wide palm beside the path. I am crying for the coyote, and then I am crying for this gift of the mockingbird’s song. I move to the street and into the shade to listen, pull down my mask, drink my hot spearmint tea. The narrow crowded leaves on the desert orchid tree seem sharp-edged today. There’s a kind of crisp clarity to everything. I look up to see the red blossoms on the tips of the ocotillo. I am all filled up by the wonder of it all, grateful to be standing here, returned to myself.
I turn south at the corner, walk home along the quiet street, my dried persimmons from the farmer’s market a small weight on my shoulder. I sip hot raspberry leaf tea from my stainless steel mug. Our snowbirds have flown early, wanting to be back in Canada before the borders close. I like this quiet world. It wakens my longing for the world I remember when I was a little girl and everything shut down on Sundays. But today’s quiet evokes this sense in me that we have no idea what our world will be like after the pandemic. Today’s quiet is a little eerie, laced by uncertainty. When I get home, I sit on the couch, drink the rest of my tea, stare at my mountains. I’m behind on my sleep from too much work and weighed down by my foray out into the world. All I want to do is sleep and eat. I make quesadillas with sharp white cheddar goat cheese, green chiles, cassava tortillas. I return to the couch, savor each warm, melted bite. Then I pull my soft cotton blanket over me, the worn salmon one with the rows of skinny flying birds, the one my yoga teacher brought back for me from Mexico two decades ago. I curl up beneath this old, familiar weight and let myself sink into sleep while mourning doves come and go from the courtyard, and their wings make twittery sounds outside the open windows.
It hits me this morning when I open the gate. My white-crowned sparrows are gone. Every last one. There’s no one perched on the wall across my little road, no one sitting in a gap in the hedge above the cinder blocks. I begin to cry even as I wish them good, safe travels in my heart. I am lonelier now than I was before I knew. (I’m glad, though, to know this loss can still reach all the way through me.) After I fill the bird feeders (but not the one I had tucked inside the bougainvillea for my sparrows), I put on my mask and walk to Ralph’s to buy more seed, spearmint tea, mushrooms and celery and garlic for soup. At the corner, a woman turns left beside me. Her mask is pulled down, her car window open. She smiles at me, big and warm. I smile back behind my mask and wave. We’re both moving in different directions, so our encounter is fleeting, but I can tell by her open face she feels me smiling back at her. Maybe she sees it in my eyes. This one long moment between us fills me up, buoys me. I know these smiles of ours must be energetic, too, boosts of love and good will shooting out of us. But I am a novice still. I fretted first that we’d lost each other’s smiles, hidden behind our masks. Now I look for nuance. A gift, maybe, of our pandemic, this growing awareness, the deep subtlety of each exchange.
I lean over, rub lotion into my calves, my shins. I am behind on my sleep, tight from too many hours on my laptop. I dangle from my waist in the small bathroom, feel my spine lengthen. My body is stiff, foreign. I abandoned my yoga in January, maybe even before I got sick, and I have yet to return to it. As I come to standing, I think, I’ll have to plan to do my yoga through the next pandemic. (As if I have to wait until the next one to begin again. As if I can’t begin today or tomorrow. As if the idea of the next one is an everyday thought. As if anyone but me would think this is funny.) I look at myself in the mirror and grin.
I yell into the phone. “I hate you!” This is my fourth try today with AT&T’s torturous automated system. I’ve walked through this untold times in recent weeks. My mother’s phone keeps going out because of the rain, old cables they don’t plan to replace. Today, the delightful system keeps routing me to a customer service queue and then tells me they’re closed. After I hang up, I stomp down the hallway muttering. “You are so Lily Tomlin’s phone company,” I say, and a half-smile works its way up inside me.