Tonight my eyes are getting heavy and my heart lighter. It’s the first day of my month, the eve of my birthday, the ending of my year of blogging and this last week or so of crazed posting before I turn sixty-four. Like other important eves of the year, this one has me looking back. My last birthday was hard. It was harder to be connected to myself than it is now. And I was completely cut off from my own home, but now I am tethered to it again, and the song of my white-crowned sparrows and the young mama hummingbird taking a bath and the new generation of lizards there in my courtyard are all part of the fabric of me again even though I am still living away from them. Now I get to visit. I get to know they don’t all think I’ve abandoned them anymore. And now I have lizard friends here, too, and my red-tailed hawk family, my two ravens and the Cooper’s hawk. I even have my mother’s white-crowned sparrows here, though they never serenade in the same way. Tonight I feel a little silly for not being able to let go of it but so glad, too, that I did not abandon my blog after all. And I feel hopeful for the year to come. And grateful, always, for each of you, coming by to read my work—and caring.
I am roiling—self-hatred, anger, a kind of despair, even simple exhaustion all swirling inside me. I close the front door, let the screen slam, collapse to my knees just outside. The red bricks are cold beneath my shins, against the tops of my feet. My back is hunched. I lie in a sobbing heap in the near dark. When my tears ease, I hear a bird call. I think it sounds like the Cooper’s hawk who talked to me for the first time this afternoon. I can’t believe it’s possible, but just the thought it might be him I hear, calling out to me in my pain, the idea he might be trying to comfort me, pierces all the way through my turmoil. I get up, walk to the side yard, look up into the bare branches of the liquid amber. There he is, sitting in the second tree, the one beside the tree he greeted me from earlier today. “Oh,” I whisper, fresh tears falling now, but different. I am no longer alone in this. “Oh,” I say again. “Thank you.”
I hear an unusual sound, a familiarity that calls to me, and I look up. The Cooper’s hawk is sitting in the just-budding branches of the liquid amber, maybe eight feet above my head. I never would have known he was there is he hadn’t talked to me. It’s the first time he has. I trust he is the one who comes for our birds at the feeder. I haven’t seen him snag one yet, but twice now there was evidence of his success in the piles of feathers left behind and in the absence of birds. I stand still, talk to him in a quiet voice. And then behind him I see the moon suspended just above the ridge in the daylight sky. It seems to come into focus on its own, like turning the knob on binoculars. The waxing crescent, fat and polished white. Oh, I think, standing below the tree, the hawk and the moon. Both of you together.
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.