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.
It is early June, and I stand in my Palm Springs courtyard breathing in the sight of my Mexican petunia. Each time I see it I think of you, my dear friends, who gave it to me. On this day it is even more exquisite than usual, and I stand counting every delicate purple blossom. I count because there are so many, and because I have a funny little thing about numbers, a lifelong love affair, really. On this day there are 77, magic number, filled with possibility. I laugh at myself while I count because I know it is impossible, of course, to know I am counting each one, or not counting one twice, and because after I am done I see one unopened blossom I didn’t count (the rest were all open), but I don’t change my tally. (Do unopened blossoms count?) I stand in the courtyard breathing in these short-lived blooms. I miss the two of you, gone north for the summer like the my white crowned sparrows, and facing challenges of your own. Then all at once I know your love for me is alive here in all these blossoms. Today, now past the middle of June, I am 120 miles away. I sit in the back yard here beneath the yellow umbrella, beside tiny succulents with sweet magenta blooms. I miss you, and the Mexican petunia, too. I went home for an hour to refill bird feeders, get the mail, and she is still thriving in the messy courtyard. I’ve been gone for a week that feels like three months, taking care of my mom. She’s been sick, but is getting better little by little. Today I touch down to my bedrock for a moment, 120 miles away from my home, from my own flowers, 500 miles away from the two of you. I let that day in my courtyard arrive again in me, let your love for me in all those blooms fill me up, make me cry. The vital presence of your love bolsters me, over and over again.
I bang the roll of quarters I got at Ralph’s against the sharp edge of the table.
They break open, and I see they are fresh minted, shiny and untouched, like a gift.
I palm six, rub them between my hands.
It seems wrong to put them in the washing machine.
I smell the jacarandas blooming. I am almost certain it is them, though I’ve never smelled them before. The citrus trees scent our air in late winter, and now this. This fragrance is delicate, elusive. It could almost be my imagination, but I don’t think so. I step off the paved path, walk with slow, soft steps across the grass beneath the long row of jacarandas. There are light purple petals everywhere, jewels against the green. I am all opened up from chavasanah, already buoyed, so the joy in this is crisp, immediate. Today the raven hatchling thief is far away inside me. The tree where I left the wounded butterfly weeks ago is at the end of this row, but that aching loss, too, is softened by time. Today there is just the open heart and the scent of blossoms and the richness of walking beneath these grand trees through the petal-strewn grass.
The mama hummingbird is devoted to her young. She builds them a home, keeps their eggs warm, feeds them again and again, ignores the toll it takes on her. Last year I worried, watching her in the guayaba tree through the open louvered windows. I wanted to help, to make it a little easier, or at least less hard. My birding teacher had no suggestions. But even now I wonder. Can’t I bring her bugs? I didn’t plan this, didn’t dovetail the theme of devotion and the header/photograph of the hummingbird nest. They happened each on their own, independent. Now I think, how perfect. Is there a greater devotion than hers? My eyes droop as I type, a long day behind me. But I am determined to post tonight, start this year of blogging out right. Writing group today was a sweetness, only six of us for a change, the core group, just us chickens, no eggs, the luscious easiness of writing together. I am devoted to my writing now. It grew in little ways, layering over time. Today it feels bigger than ever inside me. Is it a flame or a river? Water or fire? It depends on the day, I think. But the devotion is steady now. Today we each wrote a kind of dialog, a good prompt from Two Sylvias Press, their writing prompts for April, National Poetry month. It is my month, too. All month, mine. A loud military plane passes overhead. My nose itches. The cricket who has moved into the back room is serenading me. I turned two pennies over to heads-up in the course of the day, wishing good luck to the people who pick them up, a tradition I learned and copy. The Chinese say crickets in the house are good luck, too. The waxing crescent moon sinks behind the mountains. I sink, too.
I pick up my manuscript again on Friday after three months. I cradle it to my chest. I love it without opening it. Then I spend the day reading it. I mark changes in my purple Pilot. It surprises me how few things I find compared to all the other passes I have made. There is magic in this, the way I don’t push, the way I read it all the way through, the way I treasure it. Not big, intense moments, but deep ones and quiet ones, knowing I am happy with this book of mine. The next morning when the sky begins to lighten I see the waning crescent moon. I go back to bed and dream I am on a boat beside an island. There are five carved wooden birds near the top deck, painted in blues and reds and blacks. I get my camera because I am hunting for a new photograph for my coming year of blogging. When I look through the lens in the dream, I see the intelligence in the birds’ eyes, a keen knowing, and the moon hangs below them in the morning light. When I wake up and go out to feed the birds, a hummingbird lands on the top arc of the bougainvillea, and in the curving of my head to watch her, I see the moon again in our daylight sky, echo of the dream. In the last of the late afternoon, I walk to Ralph’s. When I leave the store it’s almost dark. The palm fronds are moving in a warm wind, and the light of late dusk feels again like magic, like I am coming back out into a different world. Sometimes, I think, the years I might have left to me seem too short.
Early dark, the full moon hangs above the tall buildings in downtown L.A.
Fierce and bright in the cold, clear air after the crowded bus
So familiar and dear and reassuring—a sweet surprise.