If I were told to create a scrapbook of our springtime in Palm Springs I would include a photograph of the full moon setting in the west this morning, its newly-waning glow poised above the mountains just as the light began to find the day. I’d bottle the air I woke up to last night, how it felt to sit in the center of my bed breathing in the scent of lemon blossoms. Wow, I thought. Inside my home! In the middle of the night! What a gift, I thought. I’d add an audio file to the scrapbook of the grackle who’s calling out this morning from the telephone pole. I’m in the courtyard filling the tray feeders, seeds sliding through my fingers as I listen. It’s his second morning here. I’ve never had a grackle near my home before. It feels like wishes coming true. It makes me want to drive down the western coast of mainland Mexico again, south from Topolobampo on a morning in early April, watching the world begin to show itself around me as I drive along the carretera in the last of the dark. I will park my car off the highway beside the tiendita after the toll booth. I will buy warm tortillas and beans and salsa for breakfast. Even before I get out of the car I can hear them, like nothing else I’ve ever heard before. I stand beside the road turning in a long, slow circle. I see big black birds in every tree, lines of trees that stretch along both sides of the carretera, no cars at this hour. I can see the sea off to the right. The air is wet with it, but the morning sun is warm. Sunlight glints off black feathers, making the birds shine between the leaves of the trees. It takes a little time for it to sink in as I stand there, even though I’ve been here before, even though I’ve sought this out. Every tree is filled with grackles, hundreds and hundreds of them as far as I can see along the road. The air is a cacophony of their calls, these wild, wacky, exotic, zany, happy bird noises. They fill me with their exuberance, their vibrant, lusty liveliness. I am in love with these great-tailed grackles. I am in love with Mexico on an April morning by the sea. I could stand here forever.
Today’s my father’s birthday. He’d be 83. (Funny, isn’t it, how we do that with our dead?) When I was young, I always spent Thanksgiving with him. Maybe he somehow got that in the divorce. I remember his wife Jeannie and I laughing in the kitchen of their Sylmar home, black olives on the tips of all my fingers. Later, I brought my braided garlic French bread and tomato pesto soup to a Thanksgiving celebration at Colleen’s house in Sunland when we were young adults, and once in Sacramento, just the two of us that day, giddy on our pretend wine. And even later, Thanksgivings with Meri and her first husband, six or eight of us at the kitchen table playing Pictionary and rolling in the aisles. But decades ago it became a day I looked forward to spending alone. I like to let the day unfold, knowing there are three more days that follow, all without work, without plans. For years this was often my first day off in the fall semester, and even now these four days stand like a beacon, the blessing of a real break. I love knowing I can do what I feel like in each moment, the hours stretching like magic, like summer days in childhood, knowing I have no deadlines, no need to be ready to leave the house at a particular time. People often don’t understand my choice, and even now there’s a small voice in me who asks, “Is there something wrong with me?” For seeking solitude on a day when most people want to gather? So I’m making peace with this now, trying to trust it’s okay for me to make this choice. I turned down a chance to be with people I love today, nearby at Chimney Ranch. When I think of them together, part of me longs to be in their midst. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but today being alone calls me. It’s how I am able to have a sustained connection with myself, with this earth. I want to keep moving through the quiet of my day, the happy bird sounds in the courtyard, the soft sweater against my skin, the persimmons ripening on the blue plate my mother made, the changing slant of the sunlight as it moves with the day. I want to relish the bougainvillea blossoms, expand at the sight of the San Jacintos before me. And later in the afternoon I want to walk for hours in the stillness of this day, returning again and again to my glad and grateful heart. May those same moments of remembering to return come to you, too, to each of us over and again, today and always.
I begin to feel a shift in me. It seems new, like something I may have never known before. Or if I did, it was too long ago to remember. I am sure it’s connected to the healing work Elana has been doing with me. For a long time now, I’ve been waiting for my joy to come back, the way most mornings my heart would lift again and again over small pleasures. I don’t have that, those leaps of joy over a glimpse of the mountains or a visit from a hummingbird. But when I wake up I feel this subtle sense of well-being. Each morning I stay in bed to see if it’s still there and to savor it. I lie on my back and stretch out my arms to accept it even more, grateful to be healing, eager to flourish and prosper in all ways. I believe receiving in this way is tied, too, to my wish, my prayer, for reassurance. Ever since I understood being reassured is my path toward becoming self-assured, the universe keeps meeting me in this. I walk home from the bus through the trailer park, olive oil and popcorn kernels from Trader Joe’s weighing on my shoulders. I am content, unhurried. I look up and the big waxing moon hangs low in the southern sky before me, both beacon and greeting. The Cooper’s hawk comes when I sit in the courtyard and dream my writing dreams, her arrival, the great beating of her wings, both validation and promise. I cross the big empty parking lot during walking meditation. I am companioned by the growing moon rising in the east, the presence of the palo verdes. I stop walking and stare at a shape beside a tree in the distance. It looks like a giant rabbit. It must be a cactus, I think. And then the cactus turns and lopes across the desert. I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. He is so huge. He stops and stands upright again. We watch each other in the silence. When the bell rings, I bow to him before I turn to go, certain he is magic, both unexpected gift and delicious awe.
Tuesday gray skies open, and we have long hours of that steady, quiet rain that tastes like peace. I take my lime green umbrella and walk in the late dusk, the soft pattering of raindrops balm, honey, music, salve. Wednesday is Mami’s birthday, and she and Auntie Gardi come to celebrate. The rain stops just before they get here. I bring dry cushions out to wet chairs, and we sit together in the courtyard. They drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, fascinated by the birds thronging the feeders after the rain. It makes me glad to watch them watching, feel their pleasure. I don’t often get to share my courtyard birds with anyone. Today the sun is poised to sink behind the mountains as I write. I have a small glass bowl of water beside my bed with one dark orange Mexican birds of paradise blossom, two yellow tecoma trumpet-like blooms and a sprig of scarlet bougainvillea. They broke off from the small bouquet I picked for Mami’s birthday. This little bowl of color and the candle I light are the only outer ways I mark the equinox, but I feel it with me all day long, the perfect balance between night and day, between darkness and light. Maybe that’s why the funny longing that springs up in me, my crazy dream about going to Arizona on Saturday for a daylong retreat Amma is offering there stays alive so long in me today. Maybe this gateway in the turning of our world makes everything feel possible. The birds are quiet now, yesterday’s celebration a memory. But on this magic day when light and dark lie balanced just before the tipping point, Tuesday’s rain and the sweetness of our time in the courtyard yesterday feel like they are all of a piece, rich threads woven into soft, supple cloth. I feel lucky and content, writing now in the last light of the sun. Happy autumnal equinox, everyone.
Yesterday, the tenth day after my cat Sable died, I woke up happy for the first time in a long while. Today I wake up in the almost dark, Venus still vibrant in the southern sky and the solar Christmas lights glowing on the guayaba tree outside my window. It’s the first morning I don’t cry. The shock has lessened, though in moments I still reel. Sofia died in September. It’s hard to believe it’s only me here now, our little family of three gone. I glimpse things I’ll be able to do now without them, visits to friends, to Wilbur, to Mami, even just here in town, gone long hours, nothing tugging me home. Small snatches of excitement spark in me, mixed with a kind of guilt it’s easy to brush aside. I know I would gladly have stayed put to care for them forever. I miss those gentle tethers. Now it’s just me and the birds and the field mouse I met the other day in the shed. The house finch are loud and cheerful through the open kitchen window as I write. It makes a difference. My best truth today is knowing how much I cherished them, knowing I didn’t take them for granted. Sitting under the umbrella in the courtyard, the two of them napping on their pillows nearby, their furry forms relaxed in boneless cat abandon, and me knowing life didn’t get better than this. The sound of Sable clomping down the hallway, a galloping horse, the only way to run on this laminate flooring, and my heart lifting for his mad cat glee. And waking on a cold night warm beneath the down blankets, their small weights pressed against me making me feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I feel it still. And I know sweet things lie ahead. I cradle my big loss low in my arms, soft against my belly, grateful and alive. May the year ahead lie easy and dear to each of us.
I like to wake up slow. When Sable is beside me, I turn over for morning kisses, pettings and rubbings of his soft furry face against mine. Today he takes off before kisses. Sofia comes instead. She never used to want to be touched, but now the cat she has become will present herself for affection in rare moments. (These times tend to be when I’ve just begun to work on the computer or have just sat down to dinner, and she’s pushy about it. I remind myself I don’t know how long she’ll be here because there is something about the way she invades I don’t find at all endearing.) This morning she is quiet. She gets in my face but then sits down. She lets me kiss the top of her head, stroke her cheeks. She stays for a long time. I talk to her about not hanging on for my sake, remind her to let me know when she’s ready to go. “I’ll help you go night-night,” I say. It makes me cry, good tears. I’m not open to her as often as I’d like to be, so this feels right. Then she decides to run off the bed, quick, jerky movements. She knocks my mini iPad to the floor. I yell at her. I remember I don’t want to yell at her. “Arrrgggghhhhhhhh,” I say, sotto voce, like the whisper of cheering baseball fans on the radio. But then I tell her she’s a creep. If I remembered to stop yelling, couldn’t I not call her names? Still, maybe it’s progress of a sort. I will add name-calling to the list, I think, as I walk to the door. I let the cats outside, step out into the courtyard with them. I say my little morning prayers. I try to forgive myself for yelling at Sofia (yet again). When I “come to,” when my eyes focus, I’m staring at the big waning moon just setting behind the San Jacintos. It is framed, postcard perfect, between the smooth green limbs of our Palo Verde. It makes me stop, this miracle, this affirmation of life, of magic in the world—this big gift. I stand there, grateful, and everything else seeps out of me. I watch, not moving, until she disappears behind the ridge. Goodbye, moon.
I hear a bird who is not one of my “regulars,” and I stop sweeping, stand listening in the open doorway of my trailer home. A timid peep comes from the Palo Verde, a verdin, who also doesn’t visit often. But his is not the sound I’ve stopped for. It was someone louder. Someone is calling from the top of the electrical pole across our small road. When I walk outside to look, I can’t see anyone up there. But he keeps talking, so I go get my binoculars. I used to bring them out to the courtyard every morning, to sit beside my notebook, my pens, my small pile of books. Sometimes I would just sit and watch my regulars, my mourning doves, my house finch, my hummingbirds. But they would be handy when someone unusual showed up. It’s a habit I’d like to resurrect. Now I study the top of the pole with the binoculars. It takes a bit of time, but when I see the bird it clicks. He is a great-tailed grackle, one of my favorites. I used to talk to them when I walked in the mornings along the bike path. But now there is no water for them on the golf course, and I don’t hear them anymore. I would say they never come to our trailer park, but there he is. I watch him on the pole, glossy black, big tail waving, intense. I stand listening to his calls. I should have recognized his voice. It is the sound of the Mexican mainland to me, a return to civilization, the exotic calls both welcome and comfort. He flies off heading south. I stand at the edge of my courtyard and watch him fly away. It feels like he came to visit me. Warm tears push at the corners of my eyes. And now the moon is in the south, too, a thin waning sickle in our pale blue sky. I breathe and settle. Goodbye, grackle. Hello, moon.