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 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.
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.
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.
The young Cooper’s hawk is perched on the rim of my chartreuse pot, the one I broke when I moved the fig tree with the dolly. I buried it partway in the dirt, and lush oregano sheltered in its arc until the desert summer ended it. I guess he is a juvenile because he seems smaller, fresher and more twitchy somehow. And because he hides inside the bougainvillea, hoping to catch a sparrow. Yesterday he swooped across the courtyard and dove straight into the thorny branches. I think his parents have “given” this young one my yard with all its feeders so he’ll have more chance to practice. Today he seems less anxious. His head is not darting around as often as before. He keeps looking around, but his movements are slower, as if he is a little more relaxed. Just as I think this, I watch him slowly raise his right leg and tuck it under him, poofing out the white fluff at the base of his torso. I read about this just two weeks ago in H Is for Hawk, this resting pose. Seeing that leg slowly disappear thrills me. There is the blending of observation and learning, watching him do something I’ve read to be true, but it’s more than that. I think it may be the idea that he feels safe enough to rest right now, poised on one leg in the corner of my courtyard. And having this exquisite, young, eager bird at ease in my home awakes a tenderness in me, and a kind of longing. I want to run a finger across one bumpy yellow foot, brush the back of my hand across his white and brown-streaked breast. I yearn to be his friend.
My day off, I eat soup in bed, devour H Is for Hawk
Open windows, goldfinch sparrow house finch voices loud, happy
Together we savor this still-young year.
I am away from home for a week over Christmas. I send good wishes from afar. May the birds have plenty of seeds. May their water bowls be refilled each day. May all the crickets and daddy long legs and lizards and birds and the trees and plants be safe in my absence. I come back to Palm Springs on Amtrak, take the city bus, walk three blocks with the big rolling suitcase I took with me when I left to carry my presents to my mother’s. I see my bougainvillea, my wooden fence. Doves scatter as I approach. I glimpse a hawk gliding after them across the courtyard. I stop in the middle of the road. The hawk comes, settles on the gate before me. I don’t breathe. Maybe I can’t. The timing is too precise not to feel greeted, welcomed, awed, grateful. I stand still long moments while he watches me. When he flies off, I open the gate. I breathe again. I’m home.