Mammals need three things when we’re young: warmth, touch, soothing vocalizations. I think of lullabies I can’t remember. (Were there lullabies?) I think of the funny nonsense sounds I used to make to my cat Boo, lots of made-up words with muted m and u sounds, my way of loving him out loud. I make those same sounds without thinking to the hummingbird when she alights in the guayaba tree ten inches from my face. I think she decides I’m safe because after listening to my noises she moves to her soft little nest I didn’t even know was there, three branches over. I string fuchsia ribbons to keep her safe with notes attached that read “Temporary closure—hummingbird.” Later, back inside my trailer, I hear odd little sounds coming through the bathroom window. I step into the bathtub, creep close. A female goldfinch is perched high in the guayaba making quiet scrijjery sounds I’ve never heard before. I think of the mammalian need for vocalizations. Maybe birds need them, too. Maybe the goldfinch is making these soft noises for the hummingbird eggs. I remember the pretend German songs I used to sing to myself for hours while I crouched on the walkway in front of our Tujunga house dreaming up little make-believe worlds amid the succulents. I feel a dearness for my young self and a rush of grateful pride that at age four she knew just how to soothe herself. (When did she forget?) A whir of wings brings me back. The hummingbird settles on the branch beside the goldfinch, facing her. They sit together like old friends, and then the hummingbird flies back to her nest. I am tired and tender, all opened up. I stand in the bathtub for a long time listening to the goldfinch song. I feel like I belong, all of us woven together by this lullaby: the goldfinch, the hummingbird, the two beings in her tiny eggs, and me.
I sit on the stoop in the courtyard, my feet soaking in the round red basin I bought when I lived in Mexico. I’ve grown lax about my grooming. You would shiver if you saw my toes right now. There are a score of mourning doves on the ground in quiet pursuit of spilled seeds, and the goldfinch are noisy at the tube feeders. I’m reading the book my friend Richard lent me, The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg. Reading her connects me to the world of writing. It has since the beginning. I used to read Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind as often as they would have me. Her books make me feel I am part of a community of writers. I write now with my notebook on my thighs, the palo verde sending spotted shade across my forearm. Quiet pride rises in me. Maybe I am learning to stop the autopilot, the not breathing but moving always to the next thing. Can I make my days different even when my work becomes insane again? Today I remember twice to get on all fours on the concrete to kiss my black cat. I visit Sofia in the closet. This morning there were six goldfinch perched on the leaning sunflower outside the sliding glass door taking big bites out of the leaves. I watched them from bed and dreamed of a secret zoom lens to photograph them without moving, without making them scatter. I no longer reach for my laptop as soon as I wake up. Yesterday I took a shower before dark and marveled at the view outside the little window, the clouds pinking in the last reflected light, the sun long gone. I kept my eyes on the palm trees, on the sky, while I washed, dusk thickening. Now I perch on the steps in the late afternoon, a glass of lemonade beside me, my feet waiting prunes in the red basin. I hear the visiting cowbird’s song, glance up to see his shiny sleekness at the big tray feeder. His watery trill passes through my skin, chasing peace.
At odd moments, I find myself missing bird sounds. Have I just become greedy? This time of year when I wake up they are not nearby. I hear bird voices, but they are coming from a distance. Right now, though, someone chirps from the Palo Verde, the high note coming through the open kitchen window and then gone. I miss the goldfinch who used to chatter in my neighbor’s yard. Once in a while a house finch comes to sing in our tree. I stop to savor it, as though I can pull those liquid notes through my skin, his song alive in me beside my beating heart. And sometimes when I wake up now to muted sounds of life I remember that first spring when we lived on Avenida Ortega. Early every morning a cacophony of bird sounds grew and swelled, like nothing I have ever known before or since. I want that again, that unbelievable crescendo. But I will remember to relish what we have here and to never overlook the music, to cherish each voice always. And I’ll work to help build more of a community here, too. (I have secret hopes the hedges in the new development will come alive with birds.) Here’s to feeling once again at the center of that symphony.
I have to pee at 5:30 in the morning. When I come back to bed, I reach for my big chunks of citrine and chrysocolla. I lie there, rocks held in my fists, body sprawled and comfortable, soft from sleep. I feel excited and happy. Even work thoughts don’t change that. I hear a raven calling nearby and the sound of morning traffic. I hear the pwitter of dove wings in the courtyard. The doves are polishing off what is left of yesterdays seeds. I feel reassured by dreams I don’t remember, my body fed by sleep, fortified, my heart soothed without knowing why. I prop myself up in bed to write and end up staring out the window. There is a small bird bouncing on the tip of a Palo Verde branch, a goldfinch maybe, or a verdin, lost amid the yellow blossoms. I am not yet wearing my glasses. Between that and the lingering softness of sleep, the world has no hard edges. I continue to drift on fuzzy thoughts, content. Later, fully immersed in the busyness of the day, I am stopped by the moon over my shoulder when I am coming in the gate. I pause, reminded, and pull that early morning softness to me, a shawl across my shoulders.
One little bird flies into our courtyard garden, alights on the tip of the palo verde, then perches on the wooden fence. He is making a sweet sound, but I am not sure I can place him. He hops from the fence to the tube feeder. I think he might be a verdin, but I don’t even know if they can cling like this, don’t know if they can reach the thistle seeds through the wire mesh. In case it is a goldfinch, I tell him I hope they will be coming back. “I miss you,” I say, and he flies away. Later I see a flicker of movement, and there are two goldfinch at the feeder. I think, how cool is that? I am sure this time they are goldfinch, and females. I picture them living down the street somewhere, just popping in for a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon. Hope rears its head. I imagine this idea might spread. The two of them are eating now with gusto. “You go, girls,” I say. Maybe word will get around.
My goldfinch have all but vanished. I realized it yesterday. I felt bad, being me, wondering if it was somehow my fault they were gone. And had I been too lost in my work these past two weeks to even notice? I knew the nyger seed was not disappearing like it used to, and then it stopped disappearing all together. This morning I saw one goldfinch on the tube feeder. I haven’t seen or heard another all day. Now the tube feeder hangs there empty in the late afternoon sun, swaying the tiniest bit in the breeze. What happened? The worst part is not hearing their song in the early hours of the day. It makes me sad I didn’t recognize the first morning it was gone. How could that silence not have cried out to me lying there in bed? I have let my work sweep me away again. I was so awed by the goldfinch, by their numbers, their good cheer, their lively chatter and singing making our home abundant in bird company so much sooner than I’d dreamed it might happen. Did they go somewhere else because there are new leaves now on the neighbor’s tree? Is the tube feeder too hot now in the sun where it has lived since we moved in? I can’t remember when the goldfinch arrived here. I know at our old place on Avenida Ortega they visited all year round, but never in the numbers we were gifted with here. I feel helpless. I hope they’ll come back again. Maybe in the fall? I still can’t help feeling like I wasn’t paying attention. I never knew, never wished them bon voyage. So I will say it now. “Vayan con diosa,” my little feathered ones. “Que les vayan bien.” May all be well with you. Come home soon.
I am still wearing a long-sleeved shirt because I got caught up in working online and forgot to pay attention. Now I know I am too warm, even in shorts, even sitting in the shade. I can hear a goldfinch in the palo verde, his high-pitched trills exotic somehow–bird aria. “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” is playing on the construction site. Sable meows a couple of times before setting back on his pillow behind me. Sofia walks into the shed. I hear her clamber back up to her latest perch, having climbed down to pee and have a bite to eat. Now she can return to the important job of napping. My eyes are heavy, and I’d love to curl up, too, let sleep take me. Last night I was working in bed and began nodding off at the computer. This is new to me. Does it mean I’m getting old? This morning instead of working first thing I lay on my back and let myself daydream. I could hear a house finch singing in the neighbor’s tree. Such a pretty song, drifting in the open louvers. I studied the ceiling, the way the elegant boards cross it, mid-century craft, old-school care. Boo was still curled up beside me. “I love our home,” I said and stroked him. And then I didn’t let the wake of those words drown me in that long list of things that need doing. I managed to let it all wash out to sea instead and just be happy lying there beside my soft black cat in the early morning. Lucky. Grateful. Sleepy. Glad.