I turn south at the corner, walk home along the quiet street, my dried persimmons from the farmer’s market a small weight on my shoulder. I sip hot raspberry leaf tea from my stainless steel mug. Our snowbirds have flown early, wanting to be back in Canada before the borders close. I like this quiet world. It wakens my longing for the world I remember when I was a little girl and everything shut down on Sundays. But today’s quiet evokes this sense in me that we have no idea what our world will be like after the pandemic. Today’s quiet is a little eerie, laced by uncertainty. When I get home, I sit on the couch, drink the rest of my tea, stare at my mountains. I’m behind on my sleep from too much work and weighed down by my foray out into the world. All I want to do is sleep and eat. I make quesadillas with sharp white cheddar goat cheese, green chiles, cassava tortillas. I return to the couch, savor each warm, melted bite. Then I pull my soft cotton blanket over me, the worn salmon one with the rows of skinny flying birds, the one my yoga teacher brought back for me from Mexico two decades ago. I curl up beneath this old, familiar weight and let myself sink into sleep while mourning doves come and go from the courtyard, and their wings make twittery sounds outside the open windows.
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.
This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.
Guess where I am? It is Sunday, and I am sitting in my courtyard drinking my morning tea for the first time in five months. I am so grateful I was able to trust myself, to be gentle, to not push myself back out here before I was ready. I have been afraid of this day, of being here without my cats. I was afraid I would feel too small, unmoored, alone. I was afraid their ghosts would be too glaring, to have them not lying nearby on their pillows, or Sable underneath the honeysuckle, Sofia stretched out on the cement beside the gate, rolling on her back in cat abandon. I was afraid it would hurt too much to even reach for my own pleasure here in my garden. And I think if I had tried it any day before today it might have been true. But I have spent hours and hours moving everything into summer places, putting in an odd and goofy watering system. There are pots of dirt beside the sliding glass door waiting for carrot and beet seeds. I pulled out one “field” of sunflowers, their gorgeous disks drying now in a yellow bucket. I moved both umbrellas, bought new chairs and put them on the other side of the table. I rigged new spots for some of the bird feeders. I have touched every part of the courtyard in the last three days, and it changed me in the process. Not only that, but now there is almost nothing that’s the same except the birds are here, and the mountains, and me. My furred ones are not, and never will be again, but it’s a deep and quiet ache, not a wrenching agony. And it’s laced with wonder at the newness of everything around me, eased by the comfort of the mourning dove cooing from the fence and the soft pecking sounds of everyone eating breakfast. I count fourteen house finch again and again while I sip my tea and marvel.
I don’t go to yoga this morning. Instead, after I water the front I weed the bed with the tecoma bush. The Mexican bird of paradise there has taken off. It’s taller than I am. When I begin weeding, I know I’m not going to yoga. I want the luxury of being able to putter, to not rush through my morning chores to hurry across town. I do the rest of the watering, and then I end up clearing away all the things that have collected on the floor, the ice chest and remains of our picnic a week ago, the cans of tuna and cat food from Trader Joe’s. I wash the bamboo plates and spoons. (Yes, I am terrible. They have sat there for a week wrapped up in flowered cloth napkins, crusts of hummus on them.) I take a photograph of the birds of paradise through the open louvered windows with the morning sun falling on them. I talk to my friend Meri on the phone for a long time. In the early afternoon, I reread three chapters of Natalie Goldberg’s latest book about writing. I eat Brazil nuts and a big bowl of cherries. The mourning doves are eating fallen seeds. Sable is still outside with me, so every now and then I wiggle my foot or wave a pillow at them to get them off the ground. “There’s a cat,” I say. I point to Boo snoozing in the shade under the honeysuckle. The birds watch me, expressionless. (Who is this crazy person? What is she saying?) The flies annoy me, insisting on touching my face, my calves, landing on my ears. I want them to go away. Cicadas buzz from my neighbor’s tree. They are one thing I love about summer in Palm Springs. I have a goal now to make a list of more things I love so I’ll remember not to hate summers here. After I write I’m toying with the idea of excavating the tabletop, maybe finishing assembling the shelves so I can remove the tall stack of books from the kitchen chair. I have not yet figured out how to live in 340 square feet. Maybe, I think, I will even wash the floor today. Or maybe I will make scrambled eggs and turn the misters on and sit here reading my latest novel about Valdemar. It’s easy to call the odds for this one as soon as the idea surfaces. But you never know. It’s Day Three of my holiday. Anything can happen.
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.
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.