I cup my mask in my open palm as I turn the corner, ready to cover my face if anyone is nearby. The mask is red with pale orange petals, some in flower clusters, some scattered like starbursts. I am fond of this mask because Candace’s mother made it and because I am fond of Candace. (Her mother sews them in Fresno, and they sell them at the health food store where Candace works.) I turn now onto my small road, no one in sight. I’m coming home from my walk by the creek bed. My hip was troubling me, so this is my first walk in a week, and I am coming home nourished by the quiet, the roadrunners, the rabbits, the savoring of solitude in the company of that long span of wildness. I keep walking. I become aware of a vibration in the center of my hand. I look down, and the knot on the ear loop is bouncing up and down with my steps. I keep walking, my palm gentle, tucked close to my ribs, as if I cradle a beating heart in my hand.
Happy house finch chatter
louder than usual
wakes me in my work
I peek around the doorway
to see a dozen of them
sitting on the open louvers
enjoying the cooler air
alive and dear and
charming beyond belief.
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 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 didn’t get that long walk I’d hoped for today, didn’t take any walk at all, not even to the mailbox. I did go outside, though, after my late nap, stepping from the dark house into my courtyard to stand with my head back, sponging up the clean air and the glittering stars, Venus like a bright fist in the sky, the moon not yet rising. My solar lights seemed brighter, too, washed by yesterday’s rain, companions as I returned to the dark trailer, closed the windows in the back room, turned on the kitchen lights, scrubbed the dregs of white basmati rice from the pressure cooker. After my late afternoon meal, I’d let sleep claim me instead of the dream of my long walk, and deep sleep came. (They were both my dreams, the long nap and the long walk, on this penultimate day of my holiday. The nap was truncated but delicious, swallowing up the last window of light, swallowing the walk.) This morning I watched a house finch on the bougainvillea singing with his whole body, my joy matching his song. I yelled at my mother this afternoon, the first time in a while. (Not a very long while, but still.) “I was just really hoping for a small window of peace,” I said, after. Tonight, with hot tea steeping beside me, I can hear one lone cricket in the courtyard, feel fresh, cold air on my shoulder. I can hear a distant smoke alarm that’s been going off for two days now, another layer of stress, however subtle, a metaphor for our world in this pandemic. Maybe all we can do is bring ourselves back again and again, grab fistfuls of joy from the sky, reach for each small window of peace we can find, even with a smoke alarm always wailing in the background.