I eat my Jumbo Jack cheeseburger in the driver’s seat of my mother’s red Kia. I am in the Descanso Gardens parking lot in the shade of a small big-leafead tree. I have no real illusions about going for a walk (much less a hike), but later I will be very glad I chose to park here. There are three glossy ravens poking around. I wonder if they are hoping for leftovers. I toss french fries out the open window. They surprise me—timid, wary. As I watch a braver gray squirrel shows them up, makes off with the first few fries, her warm brown eyes on me the whole time. When I finish eating, I read the latest book by my favorite author, All the Seas of the World. My exhaustion settles on me like a blanket, but there is ease in being used up, too, a kind of quiet by default inside me. The ravens grow a little bolder, make away with the rest of the french fries, one of them taking five of them at once in sharp, dramatic thrusts of his strong, curved beak. (I think greed in the moment, but later I wonder if it was really a desperate hunger.) I toss more fries, look up from my book now and then to watch them, see the squirrel bury hers a time or two (off in the distance). I do this for hours. There is a peace in me now I have been missing (desperate, too?). My book transports and feeds me, lulls me. There is a deep comfort in my connection to these wild creatures. And there is a deep sweetness in me and a surprising sorrow when I have to drive away and leave them behind.
Tonight my eyes are getting heavy and my heart lighter. It’s the first day of my month, the eve of my birthday, the ending of my year of blogging and this last week or so of crazed posting before I turn sixty-four. Like other important eves of the year, this one has me looking back. My last birthday was hard. It was harder to be connected to myself than it is now. And I was completely cut off from my own home, but now I am tethered to it again, and the song of my white-crowned sparrows and the young mama hummingbird taking a bath and the new generation of lizards there in my courtyard are all part of the fabric of me again even though I am still living away from them. Now I get to visit. I get to know they don’t all think I’ve abandoned them anymore. And now I have lizard friends here, too, and my red-tailed hawk family, my two ravens and the Cooper’s hawk. I even have my mother’s white-crowned sparrows here, though they never serenade in the same way. Tonight I feel a little silly for not being able to let go of it but so glad, too, that I did not abandon my blog after all. And I feel hopeful for the year to come. And grateful, always, for each of you, coming by to read my work—and caring.
Today I get to wake up in my own bed. I make tea, climb back into it, cozy in the cool morning, all the windows open, the San Jacinto mountains spread before me. I let myself drift and daydream, one of my favorite things. I hear a white-crowned sparrow begin to sing across my little road, and then a second one joins in, and another and another. Their music is balm and blessing for me, reaching sinew and bone. I didn’t know how many might have come this winter. I set one of the automatic feeders up for them beneath the bougainvillea in the courtyard, knowing it wouldn’t be as much as before when I was here to feed them, but if they came, it would be something, an offering, at least. This morning in bed I listen to call after call, my lips parted. I understand they’ve been here in numbers all along, hoped for but all unknown to me until this moment. And I understand this morning’s song is their gift to me.
(You can listen to them here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R4_VdLj3TnoxbnpSKt4n8k7MJFTxXrAe/view?usp=sharing)
I am roiling—self-hatred, anger, a kind of despair, even simple exhaustion all swirling inside me. I close the front door, let the screen slam, collapse to my knees just outside. The red bricks are cold beneath my shins, against the tops of my feet. My back is hunched. I lie in a sobbing heap in the near dark. When my tears ease, I hear a bird call. I think it sounds like the Cooper’s hawk who talked to me for the first time this afternoon. I can’t believe it’s possible, but just the thought it might be him I hear, calling out to me in my pain, the idea he might be trying to comfort me, pierces all the way through my turmoil. I get up, walk to the side yard, look up into the bare branches of the liquid amber. There he is, sitting in the second tree, the one beside the tree he greeted me from earlier today. “Oh,” I whisper, fresh tears falling now, but different. I am no longer alone in this. “Oh,” I say again. “Thank you.”
I have returned to my yoga. I’d been afraid to try for a long time after my fall. My wrists were still healing. The first time I try my sun salutes, I am caught off guard by how much the bottom of my palms hurt, not just my wrists. Today is the third or maybe the fourth time I try, so I am not surprised by the pain, and now I know it will ease up if I keep going, slow and gentle. When I swoop up to standing at the end of each salutation, head thrown back, I see the fat, white crescent moon above me in the daylight sky. With each ending, there she is, her happy greeting a delight. And then when I stand again, there is my gal circling above me, my mama red-tailed hawk, as if she is waiting for me to know she is there, and the papa hawk, too. They circle twice more, an affectionate, lingering check-in, and off they go. I can’t stop grinning.
I hear an unusual sound, a familiarity that calls to me, and I look up. The Cooper’s hawk is sitting in the just-budding branches of the liquid amber, maybe eight feet above my head. I never would have known he was there is he hadn’t talked to me. It’s the first time he has. I trust he is the one who comes for our birds at the feeder. I haven’t seen him snag one yet, but twice now there was evidence of his success in the piles of feathers left behind and in the absence of birds. I stand still, talk to him in a quiet voice. And then behind him I see the moon suspended just above the ridge in the daylight sky. It seems to come into focus on its own, like turning the knob on binoculars. The waxing crescent, fat and polished white. Oh, I think, standing below the tree, the hawk and the moon. Both of you together.
Three white-crowned sparrows and a California towhee eat bird seed beneath the small ficus tree in my mother’s back yard. A spotted towhee runs out from his hiding place beside the house to join them, and his animated small self, his bright reddish orange and sleek black, so fresh and alive, remind me of the empty place in the pot of succulents where the dead spotted towhee used to lie, and my belly, full of echoes, hollows out.