This morning I coast on my bike again in that arc behind Ralph’s. I hear the mockingbird again, see the big waning moon hanging above the San Jacintos, then that surprising scent of fresh mint in the air. And it comes to me that this odd back way that passes by their dumpster has become an unexpected highlight for me, one of those repetitions akin to that freeway overpass in Oakland that also makes that lovely arc when the Oakland hills and north Oakland lie beyond and below and you move with the long curve of it, suspended in time. Or the bend on Tilton Road in Sebastopol when you walk downhill and round Scary Corner and if you are lucky you find turkey vultures perched in the oak trees with their wings spread wide, seeking the sun.
Winter yoga now in the courtyard, afternoon sun. Today two mockingbirds dance nearby. Courtship or play? I shade my eyes, watching from my mat. It’s the first time they’ve visited. I dream of late-night serenades from the bougainvillea. Good omens for things to come.
[26 of 30 in November, re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
Walking in the road with a basket in my arms, I hear my first mockingbird
Beige breast in sunlight, singing from the top of a tree
Below him in the bare branches, an old, messy nest of twigs makes me wonder.
I sit on the side of my little road and watch the day arrive. I can’t see the eastern sky from my courtyard, so I bring my metal barstools outside the fence (so I can put my feet up), and I carry out the wobbly wooden stool with care where the candle will sit and which might house my tea but these days sports coffee with half and half. I try to be quiet, not bump into things in the dark, aware of my neighbors. I stretch out my legs and settle in as the sky begins to lighten. I face southeast and watch Venus rising, have the honor of a mockingbird singing and displaying at the top of the electric pole before me. I warm my hands on the cup, sip my coffee, close my eyes sometimes when his performance is especially melodic or visually impressive. I feel bad when I get lost in thought and realize I have missed part of his concert or this coming of the day, even though I love the chance to daydream, too. When I am both present and lucky I get to relish his incandescent song and the glory of the morning splashed against the sky. Today there are echoes of deep pink spread across the southern clouds, stopping just before they tint the San Jacintos. Wide stretches of sky between the clouds become that otherworldly aqua color the twilight minutes often bring us here in the desert. We’ve had an extraordinary spring, no doubt due to the extra rain the gods granted us. For weeks the mockingbirds in my neighborhood sang without stopping, day and night. There seemed a kind of frenzy in it, the sheer numbers of singers and that ceaselessness I had yet to experience. Now in the middle of May, our desert spring is over, but this one mockingbird still comes to the telephone poll to serenade me. I lean back in my front-row seat and savor his song. The neighbor’s calico cat trots by on her early morning rounds, surprised but not deterred by my presence in the road. She is not interested in me, intent on her own pursuits, so I return to my morning concert. The waning moon and Venus stay close, too, for a long time—companions in the sky.
I look up when I open the gate, and the small sliver of our waning moon hangs in the rich autumn-blue sky. At the sight I feel met, reassured, lightened. I ride my bike, my pretty new Carrot Girl, to Marylou and Richard’s. This morning I am playing elf. I leave violets and a Ziploc full of bird seed on the back porch to welcome them home. After, I buy bags of Nyger at True Value, pack them on my bike and ride off. I’m glad I didn’t leave things for later in the day because it’s already hot even though we’ve finally touched the relief of fall. I see someone on the sidewalk ahead of me, so I move to the street. There are no cars, no other people, just the two of us heading north. I hear mockingbirds in the cottonwoods to the right. It’s the first time I’ve heard them in months. “The mockingbirds begin,” I breathe, thrilled. It sounds like they’re tuning up, tapping into snatches of their repertoire, not quite breaking into song. I can see now it’s a man ahead of me, short, brown-skinned, something tied to his back, his stride easy. I pull even, and he looks over, surprised but not startled. When I turn toward him I’m already smiling, content on my bike, on this morning, on this quiet street. He grins, nods, his whole face open. I grin back and ride past, infused with joy, with the warmth of our rare, brief intimacy, so easy and glad. I ride home beside the jacarandas, weaving in and out of their shade, and hope that quick moment of connection made him feel good, too.
I know now where my mockingbird sings. Last year they cut down this old behemoth of a tree that used to block the last hour of the sun for me in high summer. They left the trunk with all it’s sawed-off limbs, still tree-high, taller than the trailers. Right now my mockingbird is perched upon it singing to us all. Now and then he sallies forth, small leaps into the air, glorious in his dark grey and white display. Then he settles back down again upon the brown trunk. His song has smoothed out over the past weeks. He sounds like a pro now, all fluidity and grace. The only reason I know he is mine is from the way the sound comes to me. I have imagined him in the night, wondering where he was. I knew he wasn’t in my neighbor’s tree. But I thought he sounded too close to be in one of the palm trees. It wasn’t until the other day I realized where he was. His sally caught my eye from my own perch in bed. It was too tempting. I had to go get my binoculars to watch him up close. The screen on the kitchen window made him a little blurry, but I sat there grinning at myself: birdwatching from bed.
I have a mockingbird this spring who comes nearby and sings to us during the night. He seems to be a bit awkward about it. I think he might be young, just learning how to mimic, still growing into his song. His repertoire seems limited, his delivery stilted. It doesn’t flow from one sound to the next. I picture him out there practicing, trying hard to get each sound right. Maybe in the longer pauses he tries to remember a new sound to do next. It makes me smile, imagining. I hope it is a good effort for him, the kind of concentrating on something we love that requires all of our attention but can feel almost effortless. I hope he feels like that, all intense focus and deep joy and nothing of angst, of worrying he may not be as good as his cousin or as quick to learn. I hope he is pleased with his efforts. I’ve never noticed a mockingbird learning his song, though maybe even the adults practice to master new sounds. It make me feel a little vulnerable, my heart softened for him in his youngness, his big fresh desire, his newness in this world of ours. May he be well loved along the way, and may his songs unfold over time, seamless and soulful in the dark, quiet night.