I lay out my green yoga mat on the far side of my mother’s pool. It seems like the best spot. The concrete is level, the valley stretched out before me to the west. The sun is low in the sky, and I angle my mat so when I’m standing I’ll be facing the orange ball while it sinks behind the mountains. (True sun salutes, I think.) I begin lying down, stretching my spine, my hips. Yesterday was the first day I did my yoga in a long, long time. I was surprised my arms were able to hold my weight when I lowered myself to the mat from plank position. I was wobbly when I came back up to standing, but it didn’t matter. I was just so glad to be doing it again. Today when I get to the sun salutations, my arms are sore from yesterday and won’t hold my weight in that slow lowering to the mat. I have to touch my knees down, and still my arms hurt with the weight of me. When I am back on the mat, dropping my knees from side to side, I see a little bird on the wall near me. I don’t have my glasses on, can’t be sure what kind he is. He looks like he might be a flycatcher, but he stays put on the wall. I decide he may be a young mockingbird, even though he is silent. I slow my movements, not wanting to startle him. He tilts his head, seems to be studying me, strange being on the ground. He stays on the wall for the rest of my yoga, and I am touched and honored by his company. The moon is out, too, bright with daylight. I am fragile today, so the wonder of these two companions swells my heart. When I sit up after chavasana, the bird is gone. But I can still touch his soft, quiet peace. Thank you, little one.
I wake up today to sunlight on the red tulips beside my bed. “Good morning,” I say to them. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Then I sing happy Valentine’s Day to myself to the tune of the happy birthday song. I like this silly start to the day, lie grinning in the sunny room, the mountains spread before me. I began buying flowers for myself when Sable died. I needed that life here in the room with me. But these are the first tulips I’ve had since his black furry form left this world. Did you know cut tulips keep growing in the vase? I think they may be the only ones who do. I like that about them. And I love how sturdy they are, how upright. I love watching them open and close in the course of a day. Right after Sable died, I wanted a reading, found Rhonda at the crystal store. She told me there was nothing I could have done, eased a weight inside me. “Do you have a plan?” she asked me. A plan? I babbled something I can’t remember now, about how I might try to take care of myself without him here. Maybe about how I wanted to honor the death of both my furred ones by remaining pet free for this next stretch of my life, knowing as I do how it may bring things best served by this. She didn’t even blink, just listened. But then she said something that made me realize she didn’t ask me if I had a plan. She asked me if I had a plant. Ha! It made me laugh. I was touched, too, by her kindness in not correcting me. And I do have a plant, it turns out. I have a small cactus Mami gave me a year ago last Christmas. Right after Boo died, I found tiny red buds all over it. It felt like a message, like a gift. Now it’s in bloom, big deep pink blossoms like exotic birds, my Christmas cactus valentine. I heard the mockingbirds last Wednesday for the first time and wondered if they might be practicing their love songs for the big day. One is singing now as I write, his clear liquid notes drifting through the kitchen window, valentine serenade. May we all be touched by sweetness, today and always.
I read Natalie Goldberg’s chapter “Be an Animal” (from Writing Down the Bones). Her words surprise me. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times before, and yet it’s all new to me tonight, each image glistening and precise. She talks about how we are writers even when we are not writing. She tells us to be like the cat, all senses focused on our prey, ready to pounce. She urges us out into the world like this. It’s the way we are when we travel, I think, all the more so in a foreign country. But we can do it here, too, on our own block, across our own town. I discovered this on a Thursday when I left my car with my mechanic in Ukiah, half the day until it would be ready. I shouldered my day pack, walked across town. I came upon a small, deserted cafe, sat by the window, drank tea with half-and-half and honey. I explored the residential neighborhoods west of State Street. I stopped for giant zinnias, hummingbirds, a red front door. I stood for a long time listening to a mockingbird singing in a tall tree on a corner. I let myself move from street to street, changing directions on impulse the way I do in a strange city even though I knew Ukiah, even though it wasn’t new to me. I let it feel new. Without trying, I met it with Zen’s “beginner’s mind.” I remember coming upon a row of small businesses. The flower shop had buckets of red dahlias and yellow sunflowers sitting out on the sidewalk in the early morning shade. It woke up in me my old dream of having my own place for flowers, soup, books, the day’s used newspapers and a messy pile of paperbacks on the window seat. I used to picture myself sweeping the sidewalk in the mornings, setting up shop for the day. I loved the quiet satisfaction of the dream. That morning in my wandering I went across the street to a little park, put my pack on a bench, did my qi gong facing southwest under a big redwood. Later, I walked to the county library, went online, checked in with my students, did some grading. Ordinary things, but because I was in a strange chair breathing different air, I stayed more awake. In the heat of the summer afternoon I walked from the library to pick up my old red Jetta, my beloved Lolita Roja. I could still feel it, the mountain lion pace in me, watching, smelling, tasting the air as I walked through the streets of Ukiah.
The mockingbirds seem to be celebrating the equinox today, marking this turning of the world. I have heard them singing day and night, more of them than I can ever remember. So, I think they must be heralding in this changing time. Yesterday I walked beside the creek bed with Audrey and Bear. I left them near the bridge and walked back along the path in the late dusk. The big frog choir starting up held all my attention, unconscious of my head cocked toward them as I walked. And I could hear a large gathering of birds beginning to roost in big bushy trees on the other side of the wash, their high-pitched calls coming across to me in waves as they settled in for the night. But when I left the path, it was the mockingbird songs that followed me home through the neighborhoods. They sang from the fan palm to the east, the telephone pole behind me. And when I was almost home a mockingbird was singing across the street in the tree whose name I do not know but whose smell takes me back to childhood. I felt the warm silky air against my calves, my face. This would be summer weather, I thought, almost anywhere else in the world. But here we have a chorus line of deep-voiced frogs and spiky ocotillos blooming red and the bursting of yellow Palo Verde blossoms everywhere you look. We have warm night air and mockingbirds singing their hearts out in the almost dark. Here we are in the throes of late, late spring. Happy vernal equinox. Happy solar new year, everyone.
Yesterday morning I heard a mockingbird singing on the telephone pole outside my bedroom window. It had been singing for a while before it came to me–this was the first mockingbird song I’d heard in months. I lay in bed and let it wash through me, the pleasure and the delight and all the many layers of mockingbird meaning laid down over time. My big love brought the mockingbird to my world fourteen years ago. I still think of him sometimes when I hear one, the two of us sitting at the kitchen table in my Santa Rosa apartment on a warm summer night, the mockingbird’s song drifting in the open windows from somewhere in the nearby dark. I still have never read To Kill a Mockingbird, though I think an old tattered copy of it may still be somewhere in my closet. I have picked one up more than once through the years from one musty used bookstore or another. I think I have been both intrigued and afraid to read it. Does a mockingbird die? Last Wednesday night the Camelot Theater was showing the film with Gregory Peck. I’d hoped to ride my bike to see it and try out my new headlight, but I let my work get the best of me. Today I read in the morning paper that Harper Lee is having a second novel published in July. Now I think I must read her first one, and watch the movie, too. And if I love it, there will be a sequel waiting. I like few things better than getting to read more about characters I’ve come to love. Maybe I’ll make it another mockingbird summer.
When I was walking home along the creek path the other evening, I heard a mockingbird. I stopped to listen, arms limp at my sides, my back to the creek bed. I could hear him singing behind the row of houses there. I was surprised to hear another bird pick up when he stopped, singing now from a little further away, and then a third one, quieter yet. Last night I heard this happen nearer our home. I have always thought of one mockingbird, a lone voice in the middle of the night or in the early dawn. But these birds were in this together. Their songs sounded joyful, musicians playing, improvising, meeting in that place where music goes, where music takes us, each connecting in those spaces. I think of that unexpected bird symphony now when I get ready to head out into the early dusk hoping for a little more night music.
“I’d count myself lucky,” I said to her, or something like that. Was I snippy? Too harsh? I can’t remember, but I know there was a stiffness in me when I spoke, and I’m pretty sure I sounded critical. I was judging her because I couldn’t understand how having a mockingbird singing outside your window would be reason to lament, even in the middle of the night. “I’d count myself lucky,” I said. And I’ve been lucky in the last few weeks. There’s one who comes now to the electrical pole not far from the window by my bed. He sings from his perch there during the day, but it’s the late night hours I find the most enchanting. It reminds me of living in Santa Rosa years ago, not many months after I first learned who the mockingbird is. One would come to the tree outside my bedroom window and serenade our quiet neighborhood in the middle of the summer nights. It always felt like a dream, like magic, a holy visit. Now when I hear our Palm Springs mockingbird singing when the rest of the world is silent, that same sense of enchantment comes over me. I relish his song while I lie in bed, the way I savor the sound of raindrops on the roof, sometimes only half waking in the dark, like a lullaby, sending me deeper into dreams. The late night singing feeds me freesias and night-blooming jasmine, fresh sea air and moonlight on water. It feeds me stars and the night sky, the scent of moist dirt rising. Not once have I wanted to stop his singing, only to be able to keep listening, keep soaking it up like the dry earth soaks up rain. The mockingbird’s song is a dance, a celebration, an invitation to take wing. My heart soars with his cadence, and I slide back into sleep.