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 see the mama coyote again. She’s standing just off the creek path as I walk across the street. I stop at the edge of the road to breathe her in. She still looks unwell, but less so, I think. She’s steadier, somehow. Then a pup appears at the top of the bank, scampers over to her, weaves around her legs in delight at their reunion. It eases something inside me to see them together. The pup is happy, and for long moments this is all that matters. Other people come, and the coyotes disappear back into the creek bed. Two days later, I see the pup down below. He stops behind a scraggly bush, aware of my scrutiny, unsure. I step back, use a softer focus in my gaze. He keeps going, trotting along a small trail, ears too big for his head, all youth, energy, intent. For a moment I worry. (My forte.) He is all by himself. But I remember I trust his mama. And there’s nothing unsure about him. Once he decides I am not a threat, he doesn’t hesitate again. He runs along, so upright, a kind of joy in his little body. I realize he knows his way around, and I relax. I watch until his small form disappears into the brush. All day long, I see him in my mind, so grateful for the gift of him. All day long, he makes his steady way along the creek bed again and again, brown fur against the light sand, an enchanting video clip I play over and over, one that never loses its charm.
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.
A moment after the house sparrow flies off with the big feather in his beak, a small male Cooper’s hawk swoops in and lands on the wooden gate, not two feet from where the sparrow sat with his find. This bird always stops my breath, the marvel of his arrival. Today he holds still, his strong talons clutching the tops of the faded redwood boards. He swivels his head, his sharp eyes taking in small movements in the courtyard. He makes the small chirping sounds I love, the ones that feel like conversation or commentary, the ones that make me want to speak bird. I talk to him through the screen door, and he tilts his head to the side as if he’s studying me through the glass. Then in one quick motion he glides below the edge of the gate and is gone.
I’m just getting up, sitting up in the middle of my bed. There’s a small bird perched on the top of the wooden fence outside my sliding glass door. His back is to me, and his stance looks awkward, as if he is a bit off kilter. It looks like there’s something in his mouth. He repositions his feet on the rough wood, turns himself around. I see he is a house sparrow, a big grey and white mourning dove feather held in his beak with a firm grip. It’s so surprising I almost laugh out loud. He looks like that notecard I bought online from Pomegranate, the one I love so much I bought a second box, a colorful illustration of a bird with a feather as big as he is. I’ve never seen a bird carrying such a big feather, not in real life. I sit here grinning at him. He fidgets a little more, repositioning his feet again on the fence. Then he flies off across the courtyard and disappears with his treasure.
I race all day
and at dusk
I walk out my mother’s gate
a great horned owl
in the neighbor’s tree
feel the earth
fill my lungs
with rain washed air
caress this big bird
in my heart
his soft whoots
follow me back