This morning I walk from the preserve to Chimney Ranch. I’ve been invited for a hike. I stop along the way to take pictures with my mini iPad. I am almost sixty now, so I will need a new photograph for my blog. I hear a Bewick’s wren, a cactus wren, a kestrel and a house finch on my short walk. The only one I get to see is the cactus wren who rubs his beak on a fan palm frond and doesn’t seem bothered by me watching from below his tree. When I arrive, Corina is putting up green balloons with marvelous hand-drawn faces. Barney opens gold plastic eggs for his birthday. One of them has a tiny ceramic roadrunner inside. The universe is watching out for us, nice cloud cover for our hike, the temperature heading toward the high 90s. After, we get in the pool. I am cold and get out to sit in the sun, happy just to be. Everyone in the pool decides to make a whirlpool. I watch them circling for a long time, delighted, not quite dizzy. At one point I am overcome. I think about how lucky I am to be part of a group of people who want to spend their time making whirlpools. It’s so happy, so wholesome. It almost makes me cry. At home now, I am still all filled up with the glory of this. May I always be blessed with people who like making whirlpools. May each of you be blessed with people who like making whirlpools. May all beings everywhere be blessed with people who like making whirlpools. And to whirlpool-making people everywhere, my big thanks.
I hear a house finch singing in the courtyard. I turn off the kitchen faucet, dry my hands, move to the window. He is perched on one of the looping vines that arc up from the bougainvillea. He hops toward a second bird who moves away. At first I think, oh, no. I’m afraid he’s pestering a sparrow. He does it a second time, and again the bird scoots off a bit. And then I know. He’s wooing her! The female moves off again, settles on the top metal bar above the tray feeders. The male follows and continues his serenade. I can feel the female listening. I watch the male’s red head, his chest puffing, beak angled up, all this love in his song. I’ve never seen this before, all these years. The two birds stay together there for a long time before they fly away. Such a gift. Thank you, I think. Thank you.
There’s some kind of enchantment going on in the courtyard. The white crowned sparrows are hopping all about. Yesterday I cleaned out the rest of the dandelion and mustard bushes. (I’ve been harvesting the dandelion for my split pea soup for months now, but it became huge and sprawling, and I let it go to seed.) The sparrows flit back and forth across the freshly revealed patch of dirt and nyger seed casings, crossing it again and again, all surprised delight, this new present unwrapped just for them. Their white crowns seem whiter today. Is it my imagination, or does that happen before they migrate? I’ve been treasuring them more than ever, knowing they’ll be leaving soon. (I remember how quiet it seemed last year after they left—I’d sit outside and count the few of us remaining. Seven mourning doves, three house finch, eleven with me.) Without deciding to, I find myself saying metta for them. May you have a fun, safe journey north. May you always have plenty of food and good water and good company. May you enjoy your summer home and find your way back here again before winter. I say these blessing wishes for a long time, until I am loving them so much I cry. “I’ll miss you,” I whisper. May you come back safe and happy.
A miss a call from a friend of mine wanting information about the “bad vet” I went to with Sable. He and his husband have an old dog who’s been ailing for a good while now. I am upset with myself for not knowing it was urgent when my cell phone rang during our writing group, for not knowing I needed to answer the phone right then. I’d left him a message just that morning. I assumed he was calling me back. It’s hours before I’m able to listen to his message. I try to reach him, but I worry I may be too late. All I can do is send the three of them metta, good wishes, prayers that whatever is happening might be the best it can be. I do this every day for a week. One night I dream we’re at a gathering of some kind, forty people in a big dark room with a high ceiling. I wonder later if it’s a wake or a vigil. I am kneeling on the floor, writing my metta wishes on the polished concrete. My arm moves the shiny marker in big wide strokes. I write long feet of metta for a dog I have not met, for the people who love him.
For weeks I hear lovely snatches of bird song I don’t recognize, a long high note and then a rush of lower notes, almost a chatter. I think about writing to my birding teacher at the community college. I have an imaginary conversation with him where I describe the notes and he tells me who it might be and I go online to listen to the audio to see if that’s the one. But I don’t write to him. I only dream about it. Today when I’m sweeping the kitchen floor I hear the song again, and it sounds like it’s quite close. I walk to the living room window. I don’t expect to be able to see him or identify him, but I look out anyway. The bird is perched six feet away on my neighbor’s redwood fence. He is singing with all of himself, his chest and belly, his tail, tilting his beak up and opening it again and again. It is the song I’ve treasured, and here is the singer. He is singing with his back to me, but he turns his head, and I see it’s a Bewick’s wren. He sings while I watch and try not to be too intent in my regard. So much big song from such a little bird. When he flies off to the east, I go back to my morning chores. The gift of him and the mystery unfolding are sweet within me while I sweep.
I wake at 4am to the sound of soft rain falling. I get up and go outside to put the lid on my trash can filled with tecoma branches and bougainvillea trimmings. I am naked from sleeping. I stand in the dark courtyard for a long moment and feel the gentle raindrops on my bare skin. A kind of childlike awe fills me that borders on the edge of glee, only more quiet. In the morning the rain has stopped. After I fill the bird feeders and put clean water in their terra cotta saucers, I stand again in the courtyard (clothed now). I marvel at the delicious beauty of my little garden. The colors and the freshness of it, the fuchsia blossoms on the bougainvillea, the pale orange of the sprawling apricot mallow, the bright yellow of a small sunflower, all washed clean by the gentle rain. And poised now, ready for the promise of the birds.
I take the peeled red onion in its glass bowl out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature, the cucumber, my favorite rye Manna bread, the vegan butter. I remind myself I’m thinking of not defrosting the last loaf of the bread in the freezer, just doing without it for the next few days before I leave for L.A., but almost before I’m done forming the thought it makes me cry. I don’t berate myself for crying. I just take the last loaf of bread and the last pound of vegan butter from the freezer. (No argument with myself at all, only this instinctive response, this immediate decision to not deny myself this treat right now if it’s making me cry.) It’s disturbing that such a funny little thing is eliciting tears. But I don’t try to unravel it, just sit on the bed with my hand on my heart and let myself cry. In between I remind myself it’s okay. I get to keep eating the bread and butter. “You can always just get more exercise,” I say. And then I laugh, tears still wet on my cheeks. I’m glad I didn’t chastise myself for crying over this small looming deprivation. I decide that regardless of what worrisome state or precarious balance the crying might speak to, I feel good and sure and right about my response. I feel lighter for the release of tears, comforted by my kindness to myself. “Bread and butter,” I whisper, “for as long as you need it.” I’m grinning now.