I am early for sangha, for sitting practice and sharing, so I choose one of my favorite benches outside the dog park. It’s hot, 110 degrees, but I am shaded by a trio of young, beautiful trees, three small still-blooming palo verdes. I eat my little meal slowly, savor the crisp cabbage with guacamole, the sharp radishes with salt, the small cup of macadamias, walnuts, pistachios. It’s good to do things slowly when it’s 110 degrees, and I seem to be learning this. Small moment by small moment, I notice there is no one in the dog park, and even the birds are missing, hiding out from the heat. No one is here except me and one small verdin in the tree to my left. His presence comforts me. “Just the two of us,” I say. He moves from tree to tree within this triangle, nibbling on the tiny leaves, I think. Or maybe he is finding tiny bugs. When he flies away, I miss him. It’s just me now. But I am still content, take in the trees, the quiet, the peace. I don’t remember things going quite so still in the afternoon. I wonder if I wasn’t paying attention. The delight is our summer was delayed this year. Maybe it’s taking everyone by surprise, shocking us all into silence.
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.
It’s July 31st. I hear Carole King singing in my head and dream of waking up beside the man I love on the first day of August. Hers is a love song to summer. It’s not yet noon, over 100 degrees, muggy. Clouds piled against the mountains move toward us. One good thing: this weather gives us cleaner air. Second good thing: cicadas loud in the two trees. They change pitch, volume, breath, weave sound in and out, insect orchestra. I have just read the chapter of Natalie’s book where she talks about teachers, about Wendy. She is right. Wendy’s rich prose makes me envious. But right before, she tells us to copy Hemingway, to write a piece in one or two syllable words. I think: I do that. I don’t need to practice that. It’s organic, what comes to me. Today is the eve of the halfway point between midsummer and the fall equinox, the veil between the worlds thin. I make a small altar on the courtyard table: two tomatoes grown in the big terra cotta pot, bougainvillea, tecoma and Mexican birds of paradise from our garden, orange calcite, yellow citrine. I light one candle for this harvest time, for this turning of our world, and a second candle for all the beings I know who’ve died in recent months, feline, human, canine: Sunny, Auntie Christel’s brother in Germany, Bob, Colleen’s father, Annie. I ask for blessings on their spirits, on the ones left behind, still in bodies. May we honor both sides of this thinning veil. I take a deep breath, hear small chirpings in our tree. A verdin, I think. One lone dove sits on the wooden fence, Boo sprawled beneath the apricot mallow. Sofia comes outside, drinks water. Everything goes still. And then the cicadas begin to buzz again, and I draw another breath, keep my pen moving across the page. Sweat rolls down my right temple. My stomach growls. I twitch a fly off my forearm. I am in love with the last day of July.
I hear a bird who is not one of my “regulars,” and I stop sweeping, stand listening in the open doorway of my trailer home. A timid peep comes from the Palo Verde, a verdin, who also doesn’t visit often. But his is not the sound I’ve stopped for. It was someone louder. Someone is calling from the top of the electrical pole across our small road. When I walk outside to look, I can’t see anyone up there. But he keeps talking, so I go get my binoculars. I used to bring them out to the courtyard every morning, to sit beside my notebook, my pens, my small pile of books. Sometimes I would just sit and watch my regulars, my mourning doves, my house finch, my hummingbirds. But they would be handy when someone unusual showed up. It’s a habit I’d like to resurrect. Now I study the top of the pole with the binoculars. It takes a bit of time, but when I see the bird it clicks. He is a great-tailed grackle, one of my favorites. I used to talk to them when I walked in the mornings along the bike path. But now there is no water for them on the golf course, and I don’t hear them anymore. I would say they never come to our trailer park, but there he is. I watch him on the pole, glossy black, big tail waving, intense. I stand listening to his calls. I should have recognized his voice. It is the sound of the Mexican mainland to me, a return to civilization, the exotic calls both welcome and comfort. He flies off heading south. I stand at the edge of my courtyard and watch him fly away. It feels like he came to visit me. Warm tears push at the corners of my eyes. And now the moon is in the south, too, a thin waning sickle in our pale blue sky. I breathe and settle. Goodbye, grackle. Hello, moon.
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 year ago today was a Monday, the first true day I counted for living in our new old trailer home. We moved on Saturday, and Sunday I spent hours at Avenida Ortega, cleaning, digging up palm starts, making piles, the last odds and ends of our life there. I remember sitting outside in the courtyard on Monday morning, surrounded by most of my belongings. The palo verde was the only life here then besides me and the cats. I caught movement to my right. A verdin with his wash of yellow landed in the tree. I remember thinking it was a good omen. I felt off kilter. Our first night, I walked out to the street to smoke a cigarette. I was determined not to bring that here, not to begin that way in our new home. When I came back, I’d locked myself out. I tried to break in but couldn’t. I hunted around the piles of things, managed to find the phone book, called a locksmith. Then I sat in the moonlight on one of the bar stools and waited. The courtyard was filled with eery mountains of things, ghostlike in the half light. I wasn’t afraid. I dozed off, jerked awake again. The cats must have thought I was crazy. Why didn’t I come to bed? Today instead of phantom towers, the courtyard has three trees in big pots, two bougainvillea and a honeysuckle in the earth. Today, I have a house key hidden. Today, I do yoga underneath the stars. I lie on the mat and look up at the outlines of blossoms on the palo verde, silhouettes against the dark sky. I’m not off kilter anymore. But the cats still think I’m crazy.
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.