I hesitate to plunge into the rushing gutters on my way to the creek path. I am not in my usual kid-in-the-rain mode. It’s cold, and I am all reluctant adult. I remind myself I have wool socks on to keep my feet warm even when they’re wet. For a second I waver, think of turning back, but I step into the water instead, surprised by the strength of the current. I’m stunned when I see the creekbed. The water fills it, half a short city block wide. It is moving fast. I’m exhilarated. And I worry about the rabbits, the squirrels, the insects. I hope they were able to escape. I watch a black phoebe flitting about near the water’s edge, the only sign of life. I am afraid he is too close to the rushing water. At the footbridge, a handful of people take videos with their phones. I lean over to watch the water where it drops under the bridge. It makes me dizzy. I don’t expect this quantity of water, the swiftness of it. It scares me. Thrills me. I face the river as it comes from the mountain. I know my hope is nothing in the face of this. There is no way everyone was safe, and I grieve for the wildlife. I walk home beside this huge foreign beast moving beside me. I dream of cottontails hidden in the brush, safe, several feet above the water. Hours later I can still feel it, the magnitude of moving water, the weight of it, the power, like the memory of the rocking boat when you’re back on solid land again. I wonder how long it will stay with me, the water’s presence layered like this over everything.
At night 120 miles away my solar Christmas lights
glow and arc in the bougainvillea
silent and dear without me.
I choose the path on the left. It cuts through dense growth as tall as I am, berries, poison oak. There are pink flowers that scent the air with their wild rose fragrance, violet thistles, bright yellow fennel blossoms three feet above my head. If you look below, you can see pockets of open space, a honeycomb of dens and pathways for larger animals. I peek into them, hoping to spy someone. I’ve decided the animal I saw on the hillside trail was not a coyote but a red fox. That explains the way he felt so different to me, more shy, sweeter somehow, non-threatening. I would like to see him again. The sun is surprising, warm on my shoulders, but the bramble caves are empty. Once in a while the brush dips below my head, and I get to see the lagoon. I stop again and again to just stand there and take it all in. I already love this lagoon, first glimpse, how the water is always moving, talking to the sea, but in a way that speaks to stillness, to safe harbor. The pelicans enchant me, wake up in me the time I fell in love with them in Todos Santos. I watch them glide in to land on the water or take to the air in groups. The sound of them batting the surface of the lagoon with their wings follows me as I walk. I am the only human here. Halfway to the beach I am overcome by how deep the need in me was for this solitude after three full days without being alone except for that first short walk up the hill. It reminds me of living in Ajijic and wandering onto a dirt road that ran west of the town, finding myself beside a big field with horses near the lake, no one else in sight, the peace of the countryside easing a part of me I didn’t even know had been disturbed by all the concrete and bricks, my neighbors packed in tight around me. Funny, I think, to have Mexico conjured twice for me on such a short walk in this northern land. I stand alone on the path for a long time watching the pelicans, breathing in the scent of the wild roses and the darker smell of the wetlands. When I feel something loosen in my chest, I keep walking to the sea.
Mammals need three things when we’re young: warmth, touch, soothing vocalizations. I think of lullabies I can’t remember. (Were there lullabies?) I think of the funny nonsense sounds I used to make to my cat Boo, lots of made-up words with muted m and u sounds, my way of loving him out loud. I make those same sounds without thinking to the hummingbird when she alights in the guayaba tree ten inches from my face. I think she decides I’m safe because after listening to my noises she moves to her soft little nest I didn’t even know was there, three branches over. I string fuchsia ribbons to keep her safe with notes attached that read “Temporary closure—hummingbird.” Later, back inside my trailer, I hear odd little sounds coming through the bathroom window. I step into the bathtub, creep close. A female goldfinch is perched high in the guayaba making quiet scrijjery sounds I’ve never heard before. I think of the mammalian need for vocalizations. Maybe birds need them, too. Maybe the goldfinch is making these soft noises for the hummingbird eggs. I remember the pretend German songs I used to sing to myself for hours while I crouched on the walkway in front of our Tujunga house dreaming up little make-believe worlds amid the succulents. I feel a dearness for my young self and a rush of grateful pride that at age four she knew just how to soothe herself. (When did she forget?) A whir of wings brings me back. The hummingbird settles on the branch beside the goldfinch, facing her. They sit together like old friends, and then the hummingbird flies back to her nest. I am tired and tender, all opened up. I stand in the bathtub for a long time listening to the goldfinch song. I feel like I belong, all of us woven together by this lullaby: the goldfinch, the hummingbird, the two beings in her tiny eggs, and me.
I try to be quiet when I leave my courtyard, but the gate screeches, wood against wood. I walk toward the creek path in the early morning. There’s a mockingbird every half block marking my passage. Today I see three cottontails in the creek bed, no coyotes. A squirrel races across my path. I stop to watch a mockingbird displaying from the top of an old, wide fan palm near the footbridge. On the bridge, I watch the swifts. There are more of them than I have ever seen, flying in a big circling cloud, then pausing on a stretch of nearby wires, as if they, too, are taking in the show. Or maybe I am their show, the lone human so strangely fascinated by their ordinary acts. I don’t know if they’re really swifts. I’m making that up because until today I never saw them sit still, and they are always quick in flight. Today, when they sit on the wires, I see their tails are forked. I stand there for a long time looking up, my mouth open, watching them swoop and circle, their small noises a communal sound, as if this ever-changing shape of small bodies is one beast, all those wings and hearts beating together. Then the extraordinary happens, flashes of yellow gold on their bellies, beneath their wings. At first I’m confused, but then I understand. The sun has risen, and it’s lighting up their undersides because it’s so low in the sky. I watch until the light changes, until the cloud shrinks to just four handfuls of birds. This reminds me of when I lived in Sebastopol and discovered that three-week window when you meet dark furry caterpillars everywhere on country roads. I remember dodging each one, so surprised I’d never noticed them before. And now at sixty this first glimpse of small birds lit from below, dazzling, the waning half moon behind them, suspended and silent in the blue sky.
I am filling the tube feeder with nyger seed at my mother’s house in the early morning. I’m in the side yard off the kitchen. I’ve just made 22 little zipper snack bags of shaved beef to freeze for her cat. My pot of tea is steeping, and brown rice for my breakfast is simmering on the stove. I close the lid on the feeder and return it to its big green hook. When I look up, I see the two of them on the other side of the pool in the back yard. I hold still, watching them. They walk about on the cement, and then they step off the edge and slip into the pool. It feels surreal. It’s so completely out of the realm of the expected or the ordinary. There are two mallards swimming about in my mother’s pool as if it isn’t anything unusual, as if they do this kind of thing all the time. I get it in my head I’d like to be able to offer them a bite to eat along with their dip in the pool. I know bread is not good for them, so I go inside to Google what they eat. I find out they’re omnivores. Fruit is on the list. I head back out, thinking of peeling an orange for them, breaking it into sections, but they are gone. I feel like I blew it, like I should have stayed to watch them. I would have loved to see them fly away, or watch them swim some more, their silent skimming across the water so full of grace, touched with magic. But I hear a voice telling me I didn’t blow it. I wanted to do a kind thing. Wanting to feed them was an impulse for good. Later, I wonder what their visit might mean, certain it is an omen of some sort. I try to look it up, but there are no mallards in my book, no ducks at all. Days later, my mind keeps returning to them, the way they kept each other company, their quiet circles across the still surface of the pool.
I wake to a world washed clean in the night, dark patches of wet in the road, fleeting evidence. I sweep while water heats for my tea and for the hummingbird’s sugar water to replace the rain-diluted batch hanging in the courtyard. I squeeze grapefruits my friend Bob brings me from his tree, four halves with the yellow plastic hand juicer I bought when I lived in Ajijic. I phone Mami, and we talk about the rain. I tell her how my friend Richard wanted it to rain at night. (I am a fan of daytime rain though I think drifting in and out of sleep to the sounds of falling rain is one of the best things in the world.) “He got what he wanted,” I say. My words echo another’s earlier this month and make me wince. I shy away from that memory, but for one flicker I wonder if my comment holds that same resentment. I hope not. But now I am alert to the phrase, curious to know if it always evokes the other one who did not get what she wanted, if it is always stained in that way by a little bit of ugly.