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.
I wake up weird. A deep sadness I can’t touch with my finger, my fist. Did I dream? I remember Iola. I didn’t know she was dying, but I was sad all morning the day she died, this same inexplicable sadness. I ride my bike to get my hair cut. There’s another woman there waiting. We talk about el día de los muertos. I describe a piece I read once, this endearing dialog. Two spirits, excited, visiting the day of the dead altar their family created. Oh, look, she remembered the pozole. And, I wonder where Isabel is? She always makes the best calaveras. We marvel over the sense of affection, how dear it is to celebrate our loved ones who’ve died, this connection between the worlds. I wave at the woman on my way out, wild hands, happy like a kid. I am buoyed, so sure we’ve both liked each other so much. I ride home, work, do laundry, cook broccoli. I am still sad, tender, wobbly. While I eat, a hummingbird flies in. He whirs back and forth across the length of the room four times. For a moment I worry he’s lost track of how to leave, but then he flies straight out the opened louvers, and I know he must only have wanted to make sure I was paying attention. I wake up in the act of loving him, and I decide he’s telling me to care about others. So I put my bowl down to go check on my neighbor, find out what the doctor said about his one eye that isn’t doing well after cataract surgery. Later, my heart savors the two small, pale squash sitting in sunlight on the arm of the couch. I take a picture with my phone. The sun sinks behind the mountains. I read Lab Girl, do more work. The vulnerability is still with me. I watch a house finch crack open sunflower seeds on the wooden fence. I breathe in the scent of tecoma blossoms. Sadness is still here, but so is stillness. So is peace.
I sweep the courtyard in the morning heat. It is covered with seed casings and feathers and the odd dried bougainvillea blossom. I am sick of the mess. I remind myself I love my birds, that this is a small price to pay. I know this because decades ago I was vacuuming just after my dog Sanji died, and I smelled her warmed fur in the machine. I cried thinking about all the times I resented her hair on the furniture, how much dirt she brought in, how I would so gladly deal with it now if only I could have her back. Still, I am grumpy and resentful of the daily bird mess. The hot, humid air only makes it worse. I am angry with myself for not hosing down the cement, for wanting to wait until I’d be home for a longer stretch to enjoy it, setting up the umbrella, bringing out the pillows. I am angry at myself for wanting it all to be perfect at the same time. I know the daily bird mess would feel less overwhelming if the cement wasn’t so spotted with bird poop, so filthy sweeping seems to make little difference. I think of all the birds partying here when I am gone, living it up all over the courtyard. They don’t do that when I’m home. Still, I am pulled down by my grumpiness. I sweep beside the edge of the cement and look down. There is a small mango nestled in the dirt. It stops me, it’s soft greens and golds, the smoothness of its skin when I pick it up. I rest the mango on my open palm, look at the sturdy little tree who has been so abundant this summer. She has jasmine and a wild vine with trumpet flowers looping about her, but she seems content. I remember how lucky I am, how much I have, how much I am given, always. I look up and see the last quarter moon in the blue sky, another gift. I slough off my discontent. It is heavy, anyway. I let the earth swallow it. I lean the broom against the washing machine, wrap both hands around the mango, chastened. “I promise to savor it,” I tell the tree. I carry the mango inside to the cooler air, grateful.
In my kitchen a collection of bottles sits on the floor beside the stove for a year. One clear glass gallon, three liters of thick glass, the palest green, one mangled plastic pint the perfect size for watering my Christmas cactus and the little squared cactus piece I found beside the road that day in Ajijic when I wandered out of town and found horses and a peace I didn’t know I needed. And four Wild Tonic bottles from when I was addicted to kombucha, their deep blue irresistible. In the courtyard this summer’s glorious batch of bird seed sunflowers lie flat across the edge of the cement for two weeks. I’m not sure why they fell down this year, but I suspect the skunks and their vigorous rooting for bugs in the night. I cut off all the dead or dying blooms when I clean out the bed, cluster all 18 face up beneath the bougainvillea, the different sizes and shades of green and brown, the black seeds peering out, waiting for the mourning doves, unexpected art. I find one small fresh blossom, bring it inside. I wash the dust off one of the Wild Tonic bottles, fill it with water, place the small sunflower inside, the leaves fluttering out. I set it beside me in the living room, the vibrant yellow of its little self, the vivid shine of the indigo glass. They feed me for days.
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.
I am walking north along a busy street. A raven flies south, and I look up, see his dark silhouette. A small black bird is flapping hard to keep up, and I see something in the raven’s mouth. A newborn baby bird, translucent in the morning light. The small bird gives up, flies north, fast. She disappears two blocks ahead. I can feel her fresh horror, having chased the raven because she had to, now panicked the others in the nest might be harmed in her absence. I don’t want to believe any of it, but the knowledge sits in me. I return my books to the library. In the park, I walk beneath the jacaranda trees. They are just beginning to bloom. It lifts my spirits to look up and see their purple buds. But the other tragic sight settles back inside me while I walk, heavy in my chest.
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.