It hits me this morning when I open the gate. My white-crowned sparrows are gone. Every last one. There’s no one perched on the wall across my little road, no one sitting in a gap in the hedge above the cinder blocks. I begin to cry even as I wish them good, safe travels in my heart. I am lonelier now than I was before I knew. (I’m glad, though, to know this loss can still reach all the way through me.) After I fill the bird feeders (but not the one I had tucked inside the bougainvillea for my sparrows), I put on my mask and walk to Ralph’s to buy more seed, spearmint tea, mushrooms and celery and garlic for soup. At the corner, a woman turns left beside me. Her mask is pulled down, her car window open. She smiles at me, big and warm. I smile back behind my mask and wave. We’re both moving in different directions, so our encounter is fleeting, but I can tell by her open face she feels me smiling back at her. Maybe she sees it in my eyes. This one long moment between us fills me up, buoys me. I know these smiles of ours must be energetic, too, boosts of love and good will shooting out of us. But I am a novice still. I fretted first that we’d lost each other’s smiles, hidden behind our masks. Now I look for nuance. A gift, maybe, of our pandemic, this growing awareness, the deep subtlety of each exchange.
The assignment, to imitate a voice
so I read her letters to a friend
letter after letter
as dusk deepens
and white-crowned sparrows
chatter in the courtyard
and go silent
I write my little piece
into the dark
so easy to fall into her voice
familiar and dear to me
for forty-three years.
Two white-crowned sparrows peck at the seeds in the small tray feeder I have tucked inside the bougainvillea for them. I watch them from my spot on the couch, the sliding glass door open to the courtyard, mountains and wispy clouds in the background. I savor the quiet in my neighborhood. It seems extraordinary today, and then I understand. Mild desert winter day, no loud heater, no A/C running, rare, unexpected quiet. I woke to unusual bird calls, black birds gathered on the telephone pole outside my window. I craned to see them through the open louvers, then banged the pot I used to boil my water for tea against the sink, loud, inadvertent, and the birds scattered. Off and on all morning in between my work I relish the calls of the ravens in the distance. Once, I close my eyes to listen to one raven’s wingbeats, loud and slow and sure, as she flies past outside my window.
Today I find my way back toward normalcy. I mix two big bags of bird seed, fill the feeders, replenish the hummingbird nectar. I make yesterday’s handwritten revisions to my memoir in the word document, remove pieces that don’t sing, clearing deadwood. Now I am fresh from the shower, renewed, the sliding glass door wide open, my white-crowned sparrows still rustling in the dried blossoms beneath the bougainvillea. The solar Christmas lights have come on, and my two strings of crystals and my magic ring, washed in honeysuckle soap, are hanging in the courtyard, awaiting the moon’s blessings on this new year’s eve. I have miso stock simmering, sending the scent of ginger into the air, and broccoli and cauliflower ready to roast. I submitted my manuscript to the Many Voices Project an hour ago. I have the night ahead of me, good food, a favorite book. Tonight I feel more like myself, quiet inside, even sweetness this morning when I wondered how I might make my way now back to joy. It comes to me I could feel lonely, but I like being here alone, awake to each moment, feeling the year come to a close. I can hear Ted banging pots in the kitchen next door and Rae and Kirk laughing from his trailer on the other side, car sounds one street over, people heading out to celebrate, the noises all muted and homey. I hold still, relishing the sounds of the sparrows, the colored lights in the late dusk, the crickets chirping, the caw of a raven in the distance. Quiet, peaceful, easy. Right.
As if they read my tweet yesterday, my white-crowned sparrows celebrate this evening, give me hope. They sing from the bougainvillea, loud for the first time, clear, bright. The hedge across our small road answers. Then more singing in my courtyard, late dusk wonder.
[re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
We lost 2.9 billion birds across the U.S. and Canada since 1970. But did the Cooper’s hawk scare off my white-crowned sparrows? Or is it even worse? Will they still return in droves? Today at dusk, one sings in the courtyard. I stand beside the kitchen window, savoring.
[re-posted from today’s tweet @tryingmywings]
I stand at the kitchen sink washing and cutting vegetables for soup. It is late dusk. I work in a small circle of light from the stove. I smell garlic, dandelion greens, leeks, green onions, olive oil. “You can close your eyes,” James Taylor sings. “It’s all right.” A white crowned sparrow’s melodic call comes through the open window, pure, piercing. A fullness wells up in me, that blend of sweetness and sadness, this fleeting life. I slice mushrooms with slow, even strokes of the knife, tears in my eyes.