I am walking north along a busy street. A raven flies south, and I look up, see his dark silhouette. A small black bird is flapping hard to keep up, and I see something in the raven’s mouth. A newborn baby bird, translucent in the morning light. The small bird gives up, flies north, fast. She disappears two blocks ahead. I can feel her fresh horror, having chased the raven because she had to, now panicked the others in the nest might be harmed in her absence. I don’t want to believe any of it, but the knowledge sits in me. I return my books to the library. In the park, I walk beneath the jacaranda trees. They are just beginning to bloom. It lifts my spirits to look up and see their purple buds. But the other tragic sight settles back inside me while I walk, heavy in my chest.
I blame it on Alexa. She must have set my alarm for the wrong time. I wake up knowing it’s too late to get to the footbridge in time to hear the bells chime the hour. I put my sandals on, muzzy from my nap, and head out into the warm wind of early evening. The water in the creek surprises me each time I see it, and I wonder why I am not walking beside it every day until it’s gone. I talk to a raven on the sand, watch the moving water, stop on the bridge and look down at the falls at the concrete drop, still loud from the snowmelt but no longer thunderous. On the way home I hear a frog begin to croak. “Oh,” I ask him in my head, “are you lonely, too?” The question surprises me like the water surprises me. I stop on the path. Am I lonely? I feel a subtle ache, a kind of longing. A little lonely, yes. This morning I woke up with thoughts about being left out. Maybe that has stayed with me. But I’m glad, too. Content, quieted, grateful. While I stand there sorting it out inside me, other frogs join in, six or seven voices, a companionable chorus. It makes me grin. I cross the street, and a raven wings toward me. Is he the same one I spoke to earlier? He lands beside me in a fan palm, and I stand still in the middle of the road. Between the frogs and this bird, I no longer feel alone. And because I’ve stopped before I turn the corner, I hear the bells, after all, tolling the half hour in the late dusk.
The mama hummingbird is devoted to her young. She builds them a home, keeps their eggs warm, feeds them again and again, ignores the toll it takes on her. Last year I worried, watching her in the guayaba tree through the open louvered windows. I wanted to help, to make it a little easier, or at least less hard. My birding teacher had no suggestions. But even now I wonder. Can’t I bring her bugs? I didn’t plan this, didn’t dovetail the theme of devotion and the header/photograph of the hummingbird nest. They happened each on their own, independent. Now I think, how perfect. Is there a greater devotion than hers? My eyes droop as I type, a long day behind me. But I am determined to post tonight, start this year of blogging out right. Writing group today was a sweetness, only six of us for a change, the core group, just us chickens, no eggs, the luscious easiness of writing together. I am devoted to my writing now. It grew in little ways, layering over time. Today it feels bigger than ever inside me. Is it a flame or a river? Water or fire? It depends on the day, I think. But the devotion is steady now. Today we each wrote a kind of dialog, a good prompt from Two Sylvias Press, their writing prompts for April, National Poetry month. It is my month, too. All month, mine. A loud military plane passes overhead. My nose itches. The cricket who has moved into the back room is serenading me. I turned two pennies over to heads-up in the course of the day, wishing good luck to the people who pick them up, a tradition I learned and copy. The Chinese say crickets in the house are good luck, too. The waxing crescent moon sinks behind the mountains. I sink, too.
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.
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 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.