In November I am gone for three days. When I’m home again, I’m afraid my male hummingbird might not visit me after my absence. But he’s still here! I greet him, and I cry. Twice this morning he comes to my face. I close my eyes but don’t flinch, though the second time he startles me, and my heart does a funny flutter in my chest. Still, having him sit and visit on the back of the chair nearby fills me with a welling joy. I love him. I love these visits. I tell him he makes me feel like my cats made me feel, like I’m the luckiest woman in the world. Bar none. I sit beside him in my courtyard and feel the joy, the tenderness, well up and seep out of me, feel that ache and that fine seesaw line between our 10,000 joys and our 10,000 sorrows. For a moment, I wonder if there is something wrong with me, that I’m wired wrong, that maybe joy should be undiluted. Maybe that humbling awe, that sense of the hugeness of the gifts beyond deserving comes from some faulty circuitry in me. Then I think it is native to our human condition, to being embodied on this planet, to the fleeting nature of things. And then I wonder, how can we not feel unequal to the gifts bestowed, to the marvels of our world? How can we not feel humbled and grateful when we stand beside a mountain, watch a bird stretch her wings, take in the bougainvillea in full bloom? Or by the gift of morning companionship in the tiny form of a hummingbird? Thank you, little one. I’m so glad you’re still here, still making these visits. I’m glad I’m still here, too.
I wait outside for Ian to pick me up before the daylong MBSR retreat. I’m standing on the sidewalk, and I glance back down my little road. I stop a coyote in his tracks. For a moment, we are both still, just looking at each other. He’s so thin it hurts me, and he hasn’t groomed himself. He is starving to death, I think. My neighbor Joel is heading toward me with his two little dogs, so I turn around to warn him about the coyote on our road. When I look again, he is gone. He haunts me, though. Two months later, I can still picture him, his dear, unkempt, emaciated form. And the look in his eyes. He looked beyond exhausted. Despairing, I think, barely able to go on. Looking back, I imagine I even saw a flicker of hope in his eyes when I spoke to him. I’ve sent up prayer after prayer for him. I dream of buying dog food in case I see him again. Was he sick? Are all our coyotes starving now? How can I possibly begin to feed coyotes? (My neighbors would flip.) I wish there’d been time and quiet to just be with him that morning. I loved him in that first moment, but there was no time to cherish him, to know him even for a little while. May he be safe and free from harm. May he have all he needs to heal and thrive. May he live with ease and well being for as long as he wants to. May he die a quiet, easy death whenever he is ready.
As soon as I string the Christmas lights across a section of the bougainvillea, the little Costa’s hummingbird alights, claiming one loop for his new perch, a good spot to spy on his feeder. For two weeks in November he came to sit on the back of the chair beside me each morning. When I spoke to him, he swiveled his head, studied me, considering my words, the sound of my voice. He darted off to chase someone away, then perched near me again. It surprised me how moved I was to have him there beside me. I’d talk to him, go back to reading the paper, look up again to tell him how glad I was to have him there. Sometimes I’d forget to greet him, need to apologize. Now I have to love him from a distance, unless I’m near the feeder when he drinks, and then I have to stop myself from reaching out to run my index finger along his back. I don’t know where he sleeps, but maybe near that strand of lights in the bougainvillea. They keep me company when I wake up in the night. The lights have always been my favorite part of this season. When I hang the two strands outside the gate, I walk out three times to see them. I stand in the middle of the road and let myself feed on them. They’re like magic to me, fed by the sun, coming alive when the light leaves the day. They awaken a longing in me, too, a kind of nostalgia, decades of Christmas lights in all my homes, in all my places. But I think what calls to me, what feeds me, is a kind of hope. Might we all know brightness and beauty. Might we always have light in the darkness like this, quiet, steady, full of peace.
In another August dream after I come home from the mountains, after the recurring dreams of moving on the river, I dream of swallowing stones. Not in an ordinary way, not like eating dirt, not gravel. Nothing hard on the teeth, the throat, the belly. But smooth round river rocks are inside me. I sit cross legged, upright, my spine erect, like sitting meditation. The rocks move in me, slow, silent travels up and down my spine. Then I am laughing, and on the uptake of breath I know I am being fed, inhaling goodness, being healed.
In the weeks after I return home from my time in the eastern Sierras, I dream again and again of water. I steer a wooden boat with a long pole on a small river. I stand in the prow, high above the water. It’s the same boat I imagined the heroine of my fantasy novel navigating on the Petaluma River. I don’t know if the boat exists in this world or not, but it feels real. I don’t know what river I’m on, but I move along its quiet edges between the sandy shore and small islands, clumps of sand and boulders, a small tree. I have a sense these clusters of things, this water, this earth, are practicing a ritual, like candles or clay or trees or moving water, that I am joining them somehow, that I am partaking in these river rituals, too. Each time I wake up, I am left with only the feeling of the dream. But I know these dreams are somehow healing me.
The morning after the last of my fever, I feel like something sat on me all night pushing my bones into the earth of our campsite. I head toward the meadow to do my qi gong, but I stop inside the pines. I don’t want the sun, don’t know why. I study the pine needle ground and choose my spot. I face west. Maybe because I am already slow, creaky and sore, I move through all the movements without a hint of rushing, without becoming lost in the habit of it. Halfway through I hear a tinkling passing back and forth among the trees nearest me, like hummingbirds but not, like bells, like the shimmer of light on water it it were a sound. I think of Tinkerbell, sprinklings of fairy dust. I don’t even feel goofy for it; it feels like my soundest reference, in fact. Unseen bird or invisible beings in this grove? Whoever they are, it feels like a visitation. They don’t stay long. After, I press my palms together before my chest, quiet awe and gratitude seeping out of my skin, chasing away the last taste of fever. Thank you, all.
I do my qi gong in Clive’s back yard. I face east, the direction of the liver in traditional Chinese medicine. I stand before the climbing vines and blackberries, the wonderful vegetable garden, old growth, parts untamed, calls to me. I lean forward from my waist, head hanging, arms loose to the ground. I like the looks of me, this upside down view, my feet’s tan lines darker than ever from all my walking this week, the blues and thin-lined purples of my plaid pants, my stones dangling from my throat, the aqua aura bluer today against the blue of my thin shirt, the red yarn still tied to my left wrist, and that little rush of recognition, of familiarity, of fondness for myself. This is me.