I take off my necklace before yoga practice, lean forward to lay it on the glass tabletop in my courtyard. I’m not paying attention. I wake up partway through the act. There is something alive on the table. I make a little noise, wave my hands, knee-jerk startle, before I come to all the way and see who it is. It’s a small, scruffy male house finch, touched with orange-yellow. He is sitting in the shade of the umbrella facing away from me, his feathers unkempt. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “You scared me.” I laugh because it is funny being scared by a bird. I bring seed in a sturdy metal dish, water in a red glass bowl. I move with care, but I push them close. He is missing one eye, partly blind in the other, I think. I murmur gentle sounds, gentle wishes. He turns toward my voice, moves his head as though maybe he can get a kind of read of my basic shape. He is not alarmed. I let him be, and he steps onto the edge of the metal bowl to eat. He is slow and steady. He eats for a long time while I do sun salutes beside him, careful not to swoop my arms up too swiftly each time I rise. I wonder if this is the most food he’s been able to have for a long time. I wonder if he’s nearing his end. After, I sit on my yoga mat and look up at him. He’s drinking the water, scooping up mouthful after mouthful. It is so dear to watch it brings tears to my eyes. He’s so beautiful, all delicate grace. I glance away, and then he’s gone. I bow forward, ask the bird gods for mercy. When I go to L.A., I leave the bowls on the table for him just in case.
I type, my legs stretched out before me, computer on my lap, afternoon sun beside me on the couch. I am revising a piece I wrote in our Monday group, an hour left before the contest deadline, midnight in the UK. I read my work out loud, like I teach my students. I find tiny things to change. I am deep in the writing when I hear a hummingbird, look up to see her in the living room, the female guardian of the feeder outside the open louvers. In the corner of my eye I think there is another flash, but surely not, not two of them inside at one time. My familiar female hovers near me, then visits the red glass star hanging in the window. When she flies out I hear her friend, still in the room with me, not my imagination. She peers out the kitchen window to the courtyard, then rests on one of the open louvers before leaving me alone, the flutter of hummingbird wings reverberating in the room.
I peek out the front door to the courtyard. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I have to come back out.” The finch fly off, quiet and light. I’ve already disturbed them once this morning, filling the feeders, rinsing the big terra cotta saucer I use for the bird water bowl. “I forgot to get the paper,” I tell them. I swing the door wide and the doves take off before I see them, one crazy-loud whoosh of wings. “Too many!” I call after them. Too many of them for my little courtyard. I walk to the gate, pick up my paper from the top of the wooden fence where my kind neighbor places it for me. I dawdle without meaning to, find myself stroking the native plant in the pot beside the sliding glass door, the one that makes tiny yellow flowers in the spring. A hummingbird perches on a bougainvillea branch, chittering. I think she’s the one who’s taken over the feeder outside my living room window. I cross back to the front door, and a familiar sweetness settles in me. The feeders are all filled, ready for my birds. The eight palm volunteers are spruced up in their blue pot, the Mexican petunia trimmed, the mullein happy. I climb the steps to my trailer, scanning the courtyard. There’s nothing more I could want, I think. Then lightning swift comes the next thought, nothing except for my two cats to be alive and here with me. I feel my loss, three years old now, and lift my eyes. The waning crescent moon hangs just above the open door, greeting me. I stand on the steps, and I know I can keep my deep, quiet contentment, can hold my joy, my loss, my longing. I can hold it all.
I hesitate to plunge into the rushing gutters on my way to the creek path. I am not in my usual kid-in-the-rain mode. It’s cold, and I am all reluctant adult. I remind myself I have wool socks on to keep my feet warm even when they’re wet. For a second I waver, think of turning back, but I step into the water instead, surprised by the strength of the current. I’m stunned when I see the creekbed. The water fills it, half a short city block wide. It is moving fast. I’m exhilarated. And I worry about the rabbits, the squirrels, the insects. I hope they were able to escape. I watch a black phoebe flitting about near the water’s edge, the only sign of life. I am afraid he is too close to the rushing water. At the footbridge, a handful of people take videos with their phones. I lean over to watch the water where it drops under the bridge. It makes me dizzy. I don’t expect this quantity of water, the swiftness of it. It scares me. Thrills me. I face the river as it comes from the mountain. I know my hope is nothing in the face of this. There is no way everyone was safe, and I grieve for the wildlife. I walk home beside this huge foreign beast moving beside me. I dream of cottontails hidden in the brush, safe, several feet above the water. Hours later I can still feel it, the magnitude of moving water, the weight of it, the power, like the memory of the rocking boat when you’re back on solid land again. I wonder how long it will stay with me, the water’s presence layered like this over everything.
Sunday bird walk near my mom’s
A handful of us stop to watch a scrub jay in the bare branches of a tree
Marvel over his unusual silence, his stillness
Maybe he is meditating, someone says
Yes, I say, maybe he’s a Buddhist
I savor the miracle of easy camaraderie.
Walking in the road with a basket in my arms, I hear my first mockingbird
Beige breast in sunlight, singing from the top of a tree
Below him in the bare branches, an old, messy nest of twigs makes me wonder.
Home from a trip, evidence of visitors in my courtyard. First sight through the gate, swinging open, two big bags of bird seed, one big bag of Meyer lemons. My friend Bob, kind and generous. I phone. “My birthday isn’t until April,” I tell him. Teasing, trying to be witty. Grateful. The other visitor is loved, too, but the evidence less welcome. Feathers carpet the cement. A whole mourning dove, at least. My hawk was here, successful, maybe more than once. I grieve for who died. But I can’t be sorry the hawk didn’t go hungry. It lingers in me when he visits again. I shouldn’t want him here. But he is exquisite. There are fewer white crowned sparrows, fewer house finch since I’ve been home again. Little by little it sinks in, why they are scarce. But how can I wish the hawk away? I say metta instead. May my little ones be safe. May my hawk fill his belly somewhere else.