I wake to cat screams in the courtyard. I clap and yell, still half asleep, kneejerk. The cat fight stops, low growls outside my sliding glass door. I go outside to break them up, a huge gray cat I don’t know, long hair all fluffed from the fight, his backside disappearing over the wooden gate. My neighbor’s cat, who I love, escapes behind the shed. I talk to her through the gaps between the wooden fence. She sits cleaning herself on the hood of her fathers’ car, all twitchy from the fight. I go back to bed, take her shock with me, sadness welling. I ache for both cats. I hurt for the gray, hope he isn’t feral, isn’t lonely. And then I cry for my own two little ones, four years dead. Later I sweep the courtyard. I hear a kestral calling, looping about a nearby palm. I can’t tell if something has disturbed her, or if she’s just having fun. She widens her arc and flies over the edge of my yard. I stand still, holding the broom before me, watching. And then I see the waning moon is watching, too, big half moon still bright in the morning sky. It’s one of those moments when everything feels all of a piece. I stand there until the kestrel flies away, and it is just the moon and me, and some subliminal sense of all of us right now. The sparrows across the road and the hedges they roost in. The fan palms jutting into the blue in all directions. The mountains and their close, steady, silent presence. After, I cut a dozen branches from my laden tecoma. I apologize to the bush, to the bees. I sweep my part of the little road, a big pile of loose tecoma and bougainvillea blooms, some dried and crinkly and some still soft and fresh, all those shades of yellow and magenta, from pale to vivid. I scoop them up, and it feels wrong to throw them away, this rich and layered art. When I go back inside, I leave the gray trashcan tucked near the tecoma on the street, the cut branches of still-fresh blooms sticking up and out, a big bouquet for the bees.
I walk back down my gravel driveway after taking out the trash. I see a lone guayaba on the ground, bend to pick it up, turn it over. It’s beautiful, ripe and unmarred, untouched by bird or desert rat. The very last one, I suspect. I’d thought the two I ate three days ago would be the end of them. I stand cradling the small perfect fruit in my palm, this sweet surprise. I thank my guayaba tree, kiss a patch of smooth dark trunk between the lovely peeling bark skin. I feel lucky and grateful. Then I move, gentle, through the big palm fronds that brush my trailer, and I feel my sadness. Is it because of my family? Maybe. Maybe it is that. And maybe it is touched by autumn, too, the changing light, the ending in this, the movement toward the new. I love the changing of the seasons, the anticipation in that coming to be. But it’s a time of letting go, too. When I was young I always felt a kind of longing in the fall. I called it “autumn aches.” Maybe what I feel today is that. And maybe I feel the earth’s sorrow, as well. I open my wooden gate, careful of the guayaba I am holding. The Mexican petunias are a wild splash of purple in the center of the courtyard, a volunteer sunflower, big new bloom, beside them. I stop inside the gate, press the guayaba to my lips, breathe the scent of it. The sparrows lift back into the bougainvillea, soft movement, brushstroke on paper. The sadness, I tuck away. I’ll carry it with me, let it live, quiet, just beneath this joy.
I turn off the ringer on the phone, curl up on my side for a late nap, driven by desire and need. I send up a small prayer, to wake before the moon sets behind our mountains, before the last of the light leaves the sky. Anxiety has my fingers moving against the pillowcase. I hear their noise and stop. I let my angst sink back into the earth. The scritchery noise again, callouses against cotton. Again I let my anxiety seep out of me. I do this over and over, and then I sink into sleep. I go deep. I’m surprised when I wake in only half an hour, already this swift shortening of our days. But, oh, when I wake. The ridge of our mountains a clear silhouette against the last light of the sky, palest amber tint. The fat waxing crescent moon hanging just above the ridge, the first thing I see when I open my eyes, bright greeting, dear companion, answer to prayer.
Sweep. Sweep the courtyard. Yell at the big red ants. They are everywhere, traveling again and again into the path of my broom. The mess from the birds, black oil sunflower seed shells, kernel-less now. Bird shit, too, accumulates until the next good rain. Love the birds, I tell myself, accept the mess. But sometimes I yell. “Too many,” I call to the sky after them, when 40 mourning doves take wing, startled. Their wingbeats fan more mess onto the cement, and the ants roam, searching for treasure. I yell at them, too, some days. But other days I just move from spot to spot with the broom, avoiding their pathways. When I’m able to do this, to move again and again in order to sweep an ant-free space, letting go of wanting an unencumbered trajectory and my desire to finish, I can circle back again, and it just works, easy. Today, the ants are fewer, slower, maybe because last night was cooler, our first real touch of desert autumn. Today, I feel tender toward each one. I circle, calm. I even wait more than once toward the end for one ant and then another to move away, patient. When I finish, I’m struck by the beauty of this messy pile. Today, a handful of bright yellow tecoma blossoms amid the shell casings, the feathers, the papery dried bougainvillea blooms, the mound of fine, dark desert dust. And one lone purple Mexican petunia blossom still stuck to the bristles of the broom.
I walk south toward my old neighborhood with my lime green umbrella, carrying my shade. I got it in my head I might want to change the location of my writing retreat in November. So today I walk south to find David, who I knew from convivial impromptu gatherings of neighbors in the street at dusk, who has a beautiful inn there in a bend of the road where cicadas meet to sing, to see if this might be a spot for us. Two young people stare at me when I open the door to the lobby. They are cool toward me, stiff. David doesn’t own the hotel anymore. I leave and walk north, past David’s old house. It looks the same, bougainvillea spilling over the brick wall. I didn’t know how much I was looking forward to our brief reunion, that welcome and warm mutual regard. I feel tears pushing, but I know the sadness in me is bigger than this grief. What comes next is the way the young man and woman in the lobby seemed to freeze, how they believed I didn’t belong there, and now I do cry because I am weary of people making me feel like I am less than. (I think of people of color, then, about having moments like this all the time.) So, I carry my shade, and I carry my sadness, softer now, held low against my belly with kindness, and I walk north. I cross the creek bed and let the wildness of the ravine seep into me. When I am on the other side, the church bells begin. I stand in the shade of a big desert willow and listen to the bells ring the noon hour, umbrella dangling, eyes closed. In the quiet after, I hear a small bird calling in the willow. A cicada starts it’s song, and a breeze comes. I stand there for a long time, taking it in, the big gift of it all washing through me. Then I walk north again, toward home, carrying my shade.
Chris Erskine, one of my favorite columnists at the L.A. Times, was kind enough to reply to my email years ago. I remember he talked about how writing a column or a blog can be hard because we’re dependent on what happens in our lives. It was the first time I understood the contrast for me, how it moves between plethora and dearth. Because today I want to come back to those two hummingbirds in my living room whose visit I completely missed when I was having a difficult conversation on the phone the other day. And the last time I was on my bird walk, how I was focused on a woodpecker in a nearby oak, when the man beside me said, “Oh, look, a deer.” I glanced up only long enough to see him, to note his short antlers, and went back to looking at the woodpecker. After, I felt terrible. I went looking for the young buck but couldn’t find him. “I’m sorry,” I told the man later when I’d caught back up to the group. “I shouldn’t have let bird trump buck.” But two weeks later, I still feel sad about it, lying on my back in the courtyard after my yoga. I feel sad I was unable to transfer my attention in that moment. I adore deer. If I’d made a real choice, I would have stopped, breath caught in my chest, and watched the deer in wonder. It is still a grief in me, no ease in forgiving myself, in letting even small things like this go. It comes to me I may need to allow the sadness in more when it first arises. Maybe even one brief full moment would do the trick. Maybe an apology to the buck? I coax myself in letting go. I am only human. I’ll miss moments. I’ll mess up others. I’ll get good at forgiving myself. May I rejoice in the times I remember to stop.
How can I describe it? We have a short stretch of hot days. It tops out at 122 degrees. One afternoon I hear birdsong. I follow it to the bathroom, peek around the green towel hanging on the shower rod. There is an old, weathered female house finch singing on the open louvers in the little window above the bathtub. I am charmed but baffled until I realize she is coming for the air, both the swamp cooler and the A/C on, all the windows wide open because I can’t live with them closed. I am used to the hummingbirds coming to rest on the one set of louvers without a screen, but this is new. The next day there are four house finch in the bathroom window. One is eating sunflower seeds. Later, I am working on my laptop in the living room, and I hear them on the louvers not two feet from where I sit typing. They are hidden behind the purple curtains, maybe seven of them. How do I say what it’s like to have them so near? They are almost inside my home, a magical visitation, but practical and smart of them, too. It is a dearness to know they are so close to me on the couch, their songs, chirps, their tender small selves, all feathers and air, all sweetness and light, like tiny angels calling, like crossings from another world, like family. It is like nothing I’ve ever known before. When they leave, I wonder if they were a dream.