This morning there is sun. It’s cold for southern California, and glorious after three days of steady rain. I feed the birds in my mother’s back yard, put up the lime green umbrella in my far corner, dry my edge of the white slatted table and the two chairs I use. I look up at the ridge and west across the valley, one of those rare days in L.A. where the air is clean and fresh. My tea is still steeping, so after I am set up in my corner of the back yard I head out the front gate to get the newspapers. I hear a hawk and look up in time to see her launch herself from Aida’s redwood, arc right above me, fly up the road to another tree. I talk to her from where I stand. Then a second call, a second launching right above me, and her mate flies southwest, disappears. He surprises me even more. Both of them! Had they been there all along, and I was just oblivious? The mama hawk flies back to Aida’s tree. It is the closest I’ve been to her when she wasn’t in flight. I talk to her. She listens, preens a bit. It feels comfortable, almost ordinary. We have a history together, she and I, one that mostly feels like a dream to me now. But I know in the core of me what happened was real. I don’t say it out loud right now, but she knows how much I love her. I just stand there looking up, wishing I could see her eyes. If she is broadcasting to me I am too dumb today to pick it up. But I know she loves me, too. It is an enduring source of awe for me, that this can be true. I stand still after she leaves, calling out once more. I am mute now, humbled, grateful. And I am all filled up with her, my unexpected red-tailed hawk friend.
When the hawk leaves, I go outside the gate to get the newspaper. I stand beside the tecoma bush, enjoying its bright yellow blooms. Then the way a thin crescent moon reveals itself in a pale blue afternoon sky from one moment to the next, I see the hummingbird. He is upside down. He must have died perched on the small twig, his tiny talons still wrapped around it. I slide him off, place him in the shallow blue ceramic bowl I bought last month at the funky yearly sale here in the trailer park. I pick tecoma blossoms and bougainvillea, lay them in the bowl with him, one curved beside his beak, nectar for his journey to the world that lives here beside our own. I find a polished stone in my cupboard, small, not quite round. I lay it near his head, and it seems his companion in the greens and blacks and ruby reds of it, the two of them like gems beside each other.
A moment after the house sparrow flies off with the big feather in his beak, a small male Cooper’s hawk swoops in and lands on the wooden gate, not two feet from where the sparrow sat with his find. This bird always stops my breath, the marvel of his arrival. Today he holds still, his strong talons clutching the tops of the faded redwood boards. He swivels his head, his sharp eyes taking in small movements in the courtyard. He makes the small chirping sounds I love, the ones that feel like conversation or commentary, the ones that make me want to speak bird. I talk to him through the screen door, and he tilts his head to the side as if he’s studying me through the glass. Then in one quick motion he glides below the edge of the gate and is gone.
I’m just getting up, sitting up in the middle of my bed. There’s a small bird perched on the top of the wooden fence outside my sliding glass door. His back is to me, and his stance looks awkward, as if he is a bit off kilter. It looks like there’s something in his mouth. He repositions his feet on the rough wood, turns himself around. I see he is a house sparrow, a big grey and white mourning dove feather held in his beak with a firm grip. It’s so surprising I almost laugh out loud. He looks like that notecard I bought online from Pomegranate, the one I love so much I bought a second box, a colorful illustration of a bird with a feather as big as he is. I’ve never seen a bird carrying such a big feather, not in real life. I sit here grinning at him. He fidgets a little more, repositioning his feet again on the fence. Then he flies off across the courtyard and disappears with his treasure.
As if they read my tweet yesterday, my white-crowned sparrows celebrate this evening, give me hope. They sing from the bougainvillea, loud for the first time, clear, bright. The hedge across our small road answers. Then more singing in my courtyard, late dusk wonder.
[re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
We lost 2.9 billion birds across the U.S. and Canada since 1970. But did the Cooper’s hawk scare off my white-crowned sparrows? Or is it even worse? Will they still return in droves? Today at dusk, one sings in the courtyard. I stand beside the kitchen window, savoring.
[re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
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.