I trim the bushes on my little road tecoma, bougainvillea, Mexican birds of paradise so wrong this time of year but so needed to repair the butchering done to them in my absence and without my permission. Now I am ruthless, but each cut is made with love. (After, I wash them with the hose and pray for new growth.)
I didn’t get that long walk I’d hoped for today, didn’t take any walk at all, not even to the mailbox. I did go outside, though, after my late nap, stepping from the dark house into my courtyard to stand with my head back, sponging up the clean air and the glittering stars, Venus like a bright fist in the sky, the moon not yet rising. My solar lights seemed brighter, too, washed by yesterday’s rain, companions as I returned to the dark trailer, closed the windows in the back room, turned on the kitchen lights, scrubbed the dregs of white basmati rice from the pressure cooker. After my late afternoon meal, I’d let sleep claim me instead of the dream of my long walk, and deep sleep came. (They were both my dreams, the long nap and the long walk, on this penultimate day of my holiday. The nap was truncated but delicious, swallowing up the last window of light, swallowing the walk.) This morning I watched a house finch on the bougainvillea singing with his whole body, my joy matching his song. I yelled at my mother this afternoon, the first time in a while. (Not a very long while, but still.) “I was just really hoping for a small window of peace,” I said, after. Tonight, with hot tea steeping beside me, I can hear one lone cricket in the courtyard, feel fresh, cold air on my shoulder. I can hear a distant smoke alarm that’s been going off for two days now, another layer of stress, however subtle, a metaphor for our world in this pandemic. Maybe all we can do is bring ourselves back again and again, grab fistfuls of joy from the sky, reach for each small window of peace we can find, even with a smoke alarm always wailing in the background.
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.
Tuesday morning I wake up happy again, the first time in weeks. I don’t know why. I am still drinking two strong cups of yerba maté each day, still eating chips and other junky food, still drinking too much kombucha. But my heart lifts over nothing, some secret balance restored, chemistry and spirit righted. Monday was my writing group and sitting group again, so I can point to them, too, but I know it is not that simple. Unexpected joy comes when it will. I am lucky in how often it visits. I stop writing for a moment now, shift in the tall, metal chair, twist my back in an easy stretch, catch the changed light on the cement of the courtyard beside the clay cat. October light. Ordinary miracle. A hummingbird tastes the Mexican petunias four feet from where I sit, purple blossom after purple blossom wiggling on their stems. I can hear my white-crowned sparrows nibbling seeds in the small, square tray feeder tucked beneath the bougainvillea, her own sagging branches, heavy with fuchsia blooms, hiding the birds from me. Yesterday, I heard a verdin peeping outside the open window to the street. I looked up from the computer in time to watch him hop onto a louver, flit to the curtain rod inside, have a look around the living room. I didn’t stop grinning until he’d had his fill and hopped back out again. Today, I am washing dishes when I hear a flurry in the courtyard, a loud thud on the sliding glass door. I turn from the sink in time to see my Cooper’s hawk swoop between the orange umbrellas and follow a dove up over the roof. I’d been dreaming about the winter, about hot springs, about being naked, submerged in the water, cold air against my face, touching my warmed shoulders when I moved. Ordinary magic. Extraordinary gifts.
I am sitting naked in Desert Hot Springs. Not sitting about in the center of town, no—in a small, modest resort with natural mineral springs. The warm wind has been whipping about me for hours, loud in the fan palms beside the pool. A statue of Quan Yin presides poolside. I’m in the shade now. I’ve been reading most of the day. I go into the hot mineral pool until I’m sated. The wind makes me cold when I emerge, and I wrap myself in my sarong until my skin is dry and the warm air heat seeps into me again. This morning I did yoga. I did qi gong in the early afternoon. I faced northeast, a potted bougainvillea beside me, the low slung hill visible over the bamboo fence. It has been one of those days that go on and on, the quiet stretching of time, summer days in childhood. I feel relaxed, lucky. I am grateful I’ve found this place. My eyes feel sore, a lingering fever. This morning before the wind began, there was a cactus wren laughing from one of these palms. There was a loose dog in the street when I walked here from the bus stop. I look forward to the day when coming here will feel familiar, like visiting someone I know well. I close the door behind me when I leave and walk away. I look back and see the waxing moon hanging above the roofline in the late afternoon sky as though it’s guarding the place. The moon follows me all the way home.
Have you noticed how far north the sun has already traveled across its annual trajectory? It keeps surprising me. It seems like it’s already more than halfway back toward the spot I watch it disappear behind the mountains in the height of summer, and yet we’re not nearly to the spring equinox which I’m thinking must be the halfway point in its path. One of my favorite holidays is Candlemas, or Imbolc. It falls on February second, Groundhog Day, and marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s one of the eight main pagan holidays, and it celebrates this growing light. This year for Candlemas I built a small altar with five candles. I don’t tend to follow any rules, but I chose five white tealights for the physical symmetry—I put one in the center—and because five is the human number. I picked flowers from my garden, used a baby food jar for my tiny bouquet. I meant to post to you on the holiday itself, but I went to see a play with my Auntie Christel, A Perfect Ganesh, and the Sunday slipped away from me.
But I am loving this lengthening of the days. This year more than ever I seem to have trouble getting things done while it’s still light. I end up walking around our neighborhood in the dark wearing my bright pink lighted dog leash like a sash to keep me safe from bike riders. Or doing my qi gong in the courtyard, my dragon’s punch toward the rim of the mountains just visible in the early night. I am not sorry for these, am enjoying each one, even the yoga I did the other night with a lamp beside me on the ground to make sure I could see any bugs who might decide to wander over. But it lifts my heart to feel those extra minutes of light added to every day, to watch the settling of darkness moving back a bit each night. Here is to the waxing light.
I love birds. But I’ve always been extra fond of the house finch. Maybe in part it’s because this was the first bird I identified on my own, sitting on our wide stone porch in Hopland watching them busy at the feeders. I combed my little book of California birds page by page more than once until it clicked for me, until I recognized my own birds in the photograph. I remember the childlike glee, the thrill of figuring it out on my own, that dumb grin I get on my face when I’m falling in love. But more than being my first birding victory, there is something so present about them, an awareness I don’t sense in some of the other small birds, a feeling of taking stock of things, of taking their time. I see a kindness in them, too. I think that, more than anything, makes me want their company. I love it when they sit in our palo verde or nibble during a quiet moment in the tray feeder. We have one male house finch who shows a golden orange instead of red, an aberration of some sort. (Did I read once it’s caused by nutrition?) I love the vibrant color, this oddness of his. It makes him familiar, the one I can recognize each time he arrives, and it lifts my heart to see him. I dream of the day when I’ll look up into our palo verde and see a score of house finch sitting there in their calm, considering way, when the bougainvillea will have grown lush and bushy and three score more will be chattering from deep inside their shade. And in the meantime, I’ll be glad each time one comes to visit our courtyard garden, odd or otherwise.