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.
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.
I peek out the front door to the courtyard. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I have to come back out.” The finch fly off, quiet and light. I’ve already disturbed them once this morning, filling the feeders, rinsing the big terra cotta saucer I use for the bird water bowl. “I forgot to get the paper,” I tell them. I swing the door wide and the doves take off before I see them, one crazy-loud whoosh of wings. “Too many!” I call after them. Too many of them for my little courtyard. I walk to the gate, pick up my paper from the top of the wooden fence where my kind neighbor places it for me. I dawdle without meaning to, find myself stroking the native plant in the pot beside the sliding glass door, the one that makes tiny yellow flowers in the spring. A hummingbird perches on a bougainvillea branch, chittering. I think she’s the one who’s taken over the feeder outside my living room window. I cross back to the front door, and a familiar sweetness settles in me. The feeders are all filled, ready for my birds. The eight palm volunteers are spruced up in their blue pot, the Mexican petunia trimmed, the mullein happy. I climb the steps to my trailer, scanning the courtyard. There’s nothing more I could want, I think. Then lightning swift comes the next thought, nothing except for my two cats to be alive and here with me. I feel my loss, three years old now, and lift my eyes. The waning crescent moon hangs just above the open door, greeting me. I stand on the steps, and I know I can keep my deep, quiet contentment, can hold my joy, my loss, my longing. I can hold it all.
My book manuscript sits on the stool, clean new printout, spiral bound. Now and then I pick it up, rub the clear plastic cover with one hand the way I used to stroke my cats. I cradle it against my chest with both arms, rocking side to side. I am in love with its fresh newness. I am in love with its story. I am in love with its existence after all these years. I am eager to make my final pass or two through its pages. But I am not doing it. I think that’s okay. I trust I’ll pick it up at the right time. I wonder if I’m avoiding, resisting, afraid to finish. And if I am, is it because I don’t want it to be over? Because I don’t want to have to grieve? Or is it because I am afraid of what comes next? Maybe all of it is true. But I am comforted to see it waiting for me on the stool. That feels like a good sign. “Soon,” I murmur. “Soon.”
Home from a trip, evidence of visitors in my courtyard. First sight through the gate, swinging open, two big bags of bird seed, one big bag of Meyer lemons. My friend Bob, kind and generous. I phone. “My birthday isn’t until April,” I tell him. Teasing, trying to be witty. Grateful. The other visitor is loved, too, but the evidence less welcome. Feathers carpet the cement. A whole mourning dove, at least. My hawk was here, successful, maybe more than once. I grieve for who died. But I can’t be sorry the hawk didn’t go hungry. It lingers in me when he visits again. I shouldn’t want him here. But he is exquisite. There are fewer white crowned sparrows, fewer house finch since I’ve been home again. Little by little it sinks in, why they are scarce. But how can I wish the hawk away? I say metta instead. May my little ones be safe. May my hawk fill his belly somewhere else.