If I were told to create a scrapbook of our springtime in Palm Springs I would include a photograph of the full moon setting in the west this morning, its newly-waning glow poised above the mountains just as the light began to find the day. I’d bottle the air I woke up to last night, how it felt to sit in the center of my bed breathing in the scent of lemon blossoms. Wow, I thought. Inside my home! In the middle of the night! What a gift, I thought. I’d add an audio file to the scrapbook of the grackle who’s calling out this morning from the telephone pole. I’m in the courtyard filling the tray feeders, seeds sliding through my fingers as I listen. It’s his second morning here. I’ve never had a grackle near my home before. It feels like wishes coming true. It makes me want to drive down the western coast of mainland Mexico again, south from Topolobampo on a morning in early April, watching the world begin to show itself around me as I drive along the carretera in the last of the dark. I will park my car off the highway beside the tiendita after the toll booth. I will buy warm tortillas and beans and salsa for breakfast. Even before I get out of the car I can hear them, like nothing else I’ve ever heard before. I stand beside the road turning in a long, slow circle. I see big black birds in every tree, lines of trees that stretch along both sides of the carretera, no cars at this hour. I can see the sea off to the right. The air is wet with it, but the morning sun is warm. Sunlight glints off black feathers, making the birds shine between the leaves of the trees. It takes a little time for it to sink in as I stand there, even though I’ve been here before, even though I’ve sought this out. Every tree is filled with grackles, hundreds and hundreds of them as far as I can see along the road. The air is a cacophony of their calls, these wild, wacky, exotic, zany, happy bird noises. They fill me with their exuberance, their vibrant, lusty liveliness. I am in love with these great-tailed grackles. I am in love with Mexico on an April morning by the sea. I could stand here forever.
Three weeks ago the mockingbirds began to sing. When I’m lucky I hear one singing nearby in the middle of the night. I’m hoping he comes closer. Last Wednesday when I walked out of my class at the Annenberg Center the air smelled like heaven. I stopped, eyes closed, taking in deep breaths of it. The scent was so familiar, but I couldn’t recognize it. I opened my eyes to the lemon blossoms in the tree above me. Every year I forget how strong the fragrance is, how it finds you everywhere, even when you can’t spot a tree. The sun’s been moving north at a steady pace, all stealth until now when you see it’s almost halfway through its journey. It sinks behind the mountains as I write, facing me straight on now. I’m sitting inside with the swamp cooler on and the sliding glass door wide open to the courtyard. My neighbor’s tree, the one who hosted goldfinches like ornaments all winter, has budded into leaf. I think: don’t tell me we don’t have seasons here. I think: don’t let it bend you out of shape, Riba, annoyed now at all those imaginary people who like to claim we don’t. I’m doing my sitting practice facing the mountains, and my mind is crazy busy. Yesterday, too. I wonder what’s going on. I’ve been looking into rooms, wanting to begin to teach a writing class, give a workshop, lead a writing circle. I’m even fantasizing about offering a retreat, too, maybe in Joshua Tree. This is where my mind zooms today again and again while I’m supposed to be meditating. Could we get a cluster of their studio cabins all together? Could people bring their own food, plan for a pot luck or two? Can I keep it affordable? Do I charge a fee for my efforts or let people offer dana? Do I teach craft or just guide us in entering in? I am gone so long during the meditation that when I wake up and come back I feel the urge to be angry at myself. My laugh surprises me instead. But I do wonder what’s going on, wonder if I should be worried. I sit for the last minutes with my eyes open, taking in the laden bougainvillea branches arching across the wooden fence and the mountains behind them. I hear a mourning dove calling from the roof of my trailer, the first call of the year. I cherish the longing and the full, rich sweetness of his voice. Maybe, I think, I don’t need to worry about my busy mind. Maybe I’m just ready to spring forth with the season. Maybe now I get to burst into bloom.
Today feels like my first day in a long time without any commitments out in the world. I bask in the luxury of it. I go out early, trim the big yellow tecoma. I sit writing in the courtyard, sip fenugreek tea, my left arm getting wet, the hairs on my forearm dusted with mist. (It reminds me of the way the squirrel’s tail was misted in the early morning when I found him dead on the side of Tilton Road in Sebastopol, all those long fine hairs surprising and beautiful. His little form was lying in the crook of “Scary Corner” where the vultures liked to gather. The next day I found a pellet of his tiny bones. I put the collection in a matchbox. I still have them.) My right arm faces away from the misters. It’s wet, too, but just from sweat. It’s muggy and hot. I eat cold watermelon. I do my sitting practice. I have to fight to stay awake. A mourning dove coos from his perch above the tray feeders, and a goldfinch comes to nibble a big leaf on the new batch of sunflowers, that sweet fleeting time, all fresh blooms or buds just about to open, the new bursting energy of them. In between there is work and errands, in and out of the heat in the middle of the day. Later when the sun sinks behind the mountains I sit on the front step to cut my toenails. A bird I don’t know lands on the wooden fence and sings a little song. I’m pretty sure he’s talking to the house finch who are enjoying their evening meal, but I don’t know what he’s saying. He has a graceful curving arc in his throat and beak. When he leaves he flies in a loop above me, as if he wants me to know he knew I was there all along. I write my blog post for this week. I have a story to tell about a gem I uncovered during sitting practice last Saturday, but I am not ready to write it yet. Maybe I am not ready to reveal it. I take warm clothes from the dryer in the dark. I stop to look at the stars. This was a pretty good day.
It’s early, just after six in the morning. I am sweeping the cement in the courtyard. I’m a little tired, the aftermath of a long academic year, I think. I am looking forward to the end of the online teacher training I’m co-leading, three more days. The student login help for all the summer terms is beginning to ease off, too, and that part of my job will go away soon. (It will be a relief.) I’ve been going to yoga a lot, still haven’t figured out how to make my mornings work with needing to leave for class each day, feel a little off kilter, almost grumpy about it even though I’m choosing this. I seem to be busy, doing, most of the day. But I’m not getting to things. I’m not writing the way I want to be, not washing the louvered windows, not trimming the yellow tecoma. I remind myself doing yoga is enough. It makes me smile. I hear an odd metallic thump and look over at my neighbor’s roof. I see the pale breast and belly of a very big bird through the branches between us, then they disappear into the tree. An American kestrel is calling nonstop from the electrical pole on the other side of my trailer. I put these two events together, make up a story (or maybe intuit what is true). I believe this bird is hiding from the kestrel. I think it may be a heron, as unlikely as that seems, something about the shape of that torso I glimpsed. I wonder if he tried to steal eggs or got too near a nest. I go back to my sweeping. I decide I feel pretty good, even with being tired from teaching and just this side of disgruntled about my new need to leave home early in the day. I feel content, like something is easy in me. I finish sweeping, fill the bird feeders. I carry water out to the honeysuckle. The waning moon is my companion while I work, big and bold in the western sky. I finish my chores, settle in my tall metal chair outside. The moon is suspended now above the mountains right in front of me. I watch it setting while I sip my lemon garlic drink. Sofia surfaces inside me, and I cry for a moment. I miss her. I am so sorry the end was hard. Sable’s ending, too. I remember the taxi ride, holding Sofia in my lap wrapped in a blanket. I wonder why there are no pet paramedics. I sip my drink, clear of grief again, and listen to the water in the garden, feel at peace. I study my neighbor’s tree and wonder if the big bird is still up there, sheltered in its leaves.
This morning I wake up on my back and see the half moon framed in the southwest clerestory window. I feel greeted by magic. I remember Mami’s trouble breathing in the night, our fears on the phone, and I say metta for us all. May all beings everywhere be safe and free from harm. I go out to feed the birds. The hummingbird feeder is full of ants. I dump it in the weeds and use the hose with care to rinse it out, hoping some ants might survive. I think, oh, is this the way the day is going to go, filled with annoyance? After, I am standing in the kitchen and see a black-headed grosbeak join the mourning doves in the small tray feeder. He is startling beside them in his vivid orange, black and white. I’ve seen him in my garden three times in as many days. This grosbeak was one of the first birds I identified over a decade ago from my big stone porch in Hopland, so I have a fondness for them. Today I stand there watching him through the kitchen window and another strange bird emerges on a nearby sunflower, having made her way up from below to nibble on the broad leaves. It takes me a moment to make sense of her. She seems so big, so foreign. It’s only the little goldfinch who I see eating the sunflowers. But she’s a black-headed grosbeak, too. They are a pair. I am dancing inside. I’ve only ever seen one at a time before. Then three more males arrive. I have five grosbeaks, four boys and a girl, in my garden. I can’t stop grinning. It comes to me then my morning echoes life as a whole: lingering night fears, the daylight waning moon, messy, inconvenient ants, five beautiful grosbeaks—all unexpected visitors, the lot of them. Here’s to surprise guests everywhere.
I know now where my mockingbird sings. Last year they cut down this old behemoth of a tree that used to block the last hour of the sun for me in high summer. They left the trunk with all it’s sawed-off limbs, still tree-high, taller than the trailers. Right now my mockingbird is perched upon it singing to us all. Now and then he sallies forth, small leaps into the air, glorious in his dark grey and white display. Then he settles back down again upon the brown trunk. His song has smoothed out over the past weeks. He sounds like a pro now, all fluidity and grace. The only reason I know he is mine is from the way the sound comes to me. I have imagined him in the night, wondering where he was. I knew he wasn’t in my neighbor’s tree. But I thought he sounded too close to be in one of the palm trees. It wasn’t until the other day I realized where he was. His sally caught my eye from my own perch in bed. It was too tempting. I had to go get my binoculars to watch him up close. The screen on the kitchen window made him a little blurry, but I sat there grinning at myself: birdwatching from bed.
I lay out my green yoga mat on the far side of my mother’s pool. It seems like the best spot. The concrete is level, the valley stretched out before me to the west. The sun is low in the sky, and I angle my mat so when I’m standing I’ll be facing the orange ball while it sinks behind the mountains. (True sun salutes, I think.) I begin lying down, stretching my spine, my hips. Yesterday was the first day I did my yoga in a long, long time. I was surprised my arms were able to hold my weight when I lowered myself to the mat from plank position. I was wobbly when I came back up to standing, but it didn’t matter. I was just so glad to be doing it again. Today when I get to the sun salutations, my arms are sore from yesterday and won’t hold my weight in that slow lowering to the mat. I have to touch my knees down, and still my arms hurt with the weight of me. When I am back on the mat, dropping my knees from side to side, I see a little bird on the wall near me. I don’t have my glasses on, can’t be sure what kind he is. He looks like he might be a flycatcher, but he stays put on the wall. I decide he may be a young mockingbird, even though he is silent. I slow my movements, not wanting to startle him. He tilts his head, seems to be studying me, strange being on the ground. He stays on the wall for the rest of my yoga, and I am touched and honored by his company. The moon is out, too, bright with daylight. I am fragile today, so the wonder of these two companions swells my heart. When I sit up after chavasana, the bird is gone. But I can still touch his soft, quiet peace. Thank you, little one.