A moment after the house sparrow flies off with the big feather in his beak, a small male Cooper’s hawk swoops in and lands on the wooden gate, not two feet from where the sparrow sat with his find. This bird always stops my breath, the marvel of his arrival. Today he holds still, his strong talons clutching the tops of the faded redwood boards. He swivels his head, his sharp eyes taking in small movements in the courtyard. He makes the small chirping sounds I love, the ones that feel like conversation or commentary, the ones that make me want to speak bird. I talk to him through the screen door, and he tilts his head to the side as if he’s studying me through the glass. Then in one quick motion he glides below the edge of the gate and is gone.
Home from a trip, evidence of visitors in my courtyard. First sight through the gate, swinging open, two big bags of bird seed, one big bag of Meyer lemons. My friend Bob, kind and generous. I phone. “My birthday isn’t until April,” I tell him. Teasing, trying to be witty. Grateful. The other visitor is loved, too, but the evidence less welcome. Feathers carpet the cement. A whole mourning dove, at least. My hawk was here, successful, maybe more than once. I grieve for who died. But I can’t be sorry the hawk didn’t go hungry. It lingers in me when he visits again. I shouldn’t want him here. But he is exquisite. There are fewer white crowned sparrows, fewer house finch since I’ve been home again. Little by little it sinks in, why they are scarce. But how can I wish the hawk away? I say metta instead. May my little ones be safe. May my hawk fill his belly somewhere else.
The young Cooper’s hawk is perched on the rim of my chartreuse pot, the one I broke when I moved the fig tree with the dolly. I buried it partway in the dirt, and lush oregano sheltered in its arc until the desert summer ended it. I guess he is a juvenile because he seems smaller, fresher and more twitchy somehow. And because he hides inside the bougainvillea, hoping to catch a sparrow. Yesterday he swooped across the courtyard and dove straight into the thorny branches. I think his parents have “given” this young one my yard with all its feeders so he’ll have more chance to practice. Today he seems less anxious. His head is not darting around as often as before. He keeps looking around, but his movements are slower, as if he is a little more relaxed. Just as I think this, I watch him slowly raise his right leg and tuck it under him, poofing out the white fluff at the base of his torso. I read about this just two weeks ago in H Is for Hawk, this resting pose. Seeing that leg slowly disappear thrills me. There is the blending of observation and learning, watching him do something I’ve read to be true, but it’s more than that. I think it may be the idea that he feels safe enough to rest right now, poised on one leg in the corner of my courtyard. And having this exquisite, young, eager bird at ease in my home awakes a tenderness in me, and a kind of longing. I want to run a finger across one bumpy yellow foot, brush the back of my hand across his white and brown-streaked breast. I yearn to be his friend.
I am away from home for a week over Christmas. I send good wishes from afar. May the birds have plenty of seeds. May their water bowls be refilled each day. May all the crickets and daddy long legs and lizards and birds and the trees and plants be safe in my absence. I come back to Palm Springs on Amtrak, take the city bus, walk three blocks with the big rolling suitcase I took with me when I left to carry my presents to my mother’s. I see my bougainvillea, my wooden fence. Doves scatter as I approach. I glimpse a hawk gliding after them across the courtyard. I stop in the middle of the road. The hawk comes, settles on the gate before me. I don’t breathe. Maybe I can’t. The timing is too precise not to feel greeted, welcomed, awed, grateful. I stand still long moments while he watches me. When he flies off, I open the gate. I breathe again. I’m home.
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 put my big weird orange tube scarf over my head and fluff it up around my neck, tie Joe’s old sweater around my waist. It is not yet dusk when I walk out my wooden gate, the big clouds in the sky lit up by the last of the setting sun that went behind our mountains almost two hours ago. It’s my first walk for sheer pleasure in a long time. I go along the golf course path. I watch a hawk glide-land in the dead branches of the tree beside the tennis courts. When I reach the tree I stop to talk to him. “Are you a Cooper’s hawk?” I ask. And then, “Are you my Cooper’s hawk?” He doesn’t answer in a way I know how to recognize, but he doesn’t leave, either. Beyond the tree I see bunnies nibbling on the grass. It’s dusk now, and I can feel the magic of it descend on us. A Costa’s hummingbird lands three feet away, his violet mantle glistening in the remaining light. The cottontails don’t scatter today when I walk by. I am careful not to stop and not to stare. I grab quick greedy glimpses of them while I walk, drinking in their exquisite furry forms, the depth in their dark eyes, the busy concentration of their chewing. When I walk back again the rabbits are still eating, but the hawk is gone. I scan the golf course for coyotes in the late dusk. I can hear the traffic about a block away, loud on a Friday evening. I think of people going home from work, buying groceries, heading out to dinner. I soak up the respite of this path, this quiet other world settling into night, the presence of the San Jacintos. I remember why I want to return to this–balm for my spirit.
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.