I blame it on Alexa. She must have set my alarm for the wrong time. I wake up knowing it’s too late to get to the footbridge in time to hear the bells chime the hour. I put my sandals on, muzzy from my nap, and head out into the warm wind of early evening. The water in the creek surprises me each time I see it, and I wonder why I am not walking beside it every day until it’s gone. I talk to a raven on the sand, watch the moving water, stop on the bridge and look down at the falls at the concrete drop, still loud from the snowmelt but no longer thunderous. On the way home I hear a frog begin to croak. “Oh,” I ask him in my head, “are you lonely, too?” The question surprises me like the water surprises me. I stop on the path. Am I lonely? I feel a subtle ache, a kind of longing. A little lonely, yes. This morning I woke up with thoughts about being left out. Maybe that has stayed with me. But I’m glad, too. Content, quieted, grateful. While I stand there sorting it out inside me, other frogs join in, six or seven voices, a companionable chorus. It makes me grin. I cross the street, and a raven wings toward me. Is he the same one I spoke to earlier? He lands beside me in a fan palm, and I stand still in the middle of the road. Between the frogs and this bird, I no longer feel alone. And because I’ve stopped before I turn the corner, I hear the bells, after all, tolling the half hour in the late dusk.
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.
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.
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 miss the bus, too weighed down by frozen broccoli and figs from Trader Joe’s to run when I see it pass. (I try, but I can only waddle.) I’m disappointed, but I don’t get stuck there. Instead, I dig out my mini iPad, go back to reading my homework. An Amtrak bus pulls up, the one I catch downtown when I go to L.A., and my favorite driver steps off. We’re both surprised and glad to find each other in this odd, unexpected place. He shakes my hand, and we stand there grinning at each other. When my city bus comes, it’s my favorite Sunline bus driver. “I haven’t seen you in ages,” I say. I’m delighted to see him. It’d been so long, I wondered if he found another job. When we get to my transfer stop, the bus is waiting, so I can’t linger, but he jostles my shoulder, all glad to see me, too. We can’t stop grinning. I’m moved by the two connections, these warm, kind, generous men who I’ve grown so fond of over the years. I’m struck by these unlooked for gifts. And there is a third boon, too, in between. I’d been watching the sky all day, hoping it would rain on me. While I’m waiting for my bus, the rain starts to fall. I straddle my two bags on the sidewalk to keep them from getting wet and read my homework under my umbrella. I stand there in the wet dark, breathing it all in, listening to the raindrops falling on my little canopy. I’m happy as a clam, only drier.
I see clusters of butterflies flying past me in Palm Springs. I hear people talking about it on the bus. They think they’re coming from Mexico. Walking home from the bus stop, they are a river flying by. They travel from southeast to northwest. My friend Carolyn and I see them on the 210 on the way to Pasadena. They come over the roof of her neighbor’s house in Indio. Only once do I see them holding still, two who alight on a lavender lantana bush near my home. They are mottled orange and shades of brown. All I know is they are not monarchs. The one I see closely looks dusted with bronze powder. I think again and again I should Google them, but I don’t. I am loving the mystery. I watch them pass above me when I lie on my yoga mat in the courtyard, always flying northwest. I hope they are finding good spots to congregate, to replenish. I picture our rain-soaked desert alive in blossoms for them, wish them joy in that, safe flight. I see their shadows against the yellow curtains while I work in the afternoon. It’s magic, their big endeavor. This momentous happening, silent and sumptuous, going on without us, happening while we sleep, while we go on with our ordinary lives, the extraordinary, quiet and secret beneath it all.
My neighbor has fallen in love. Before, we were two hermits living next door to each other. Today his sweetheart moved in. I’ve been glad for him from day one, for both of them, for this unexpected love. But now they sit talking only two handfuls of feet away from my window. Sometimes they talk for hours. Mostly I am able to let go of it, again and again, and be okay. Tonight I can’t let go. I just keep feeling intruded upon. It isn’t as though I can get away from them. This is where I live. I become desperate. I wonder if I will have to wear earplugs to do my work, to do my writing. I remind myself how much worse this could be, this intrusion. It could be loud music that rattles the walls of my trailer, music that feels 100 times worse than nails on chalkboard. (Banish the thought. Poof! Poof!) I could be listening to racist conversations or staunch Trump devotees. (Banish the thought. Poof! Poof!) I remind myself how much I like the two of them, truly like them. I remind myself of the sweetness in this, hearing them navigate their new love. I don’t hear words, mostly, only the tenor of things. Thoughtful, honest, getting to know each other conversations, bearing souls. My heart becomes gladder. Now I hear big raindrops on the trailer rooftops through the open sliding glass door. Everything eases. I come back to my senses with the smell of the rain. Their voices murmur now. I take a deep, full breath. I remember how lucky I am.