A day of birds
One of the dogs and I were up very early for a morning ramble through the vacant lots and back streets of our little town. The grass has grown high in the lot nearest our store building, and is flowering in wonderful plumes of purple and whitened green. The blackberry vines that ramble at the street edge are full of starry white blossoms and bird's nests. The grass is sprinkled with yellow rattletrap flowers (they are kind of like snapdragons) and blue flax. An old rose grows up a pine tree and opens one bright red blossom after another.
The sparrows have hatched many of their little ones, and dart back and forth feeding them. The ravens perch boldly and make their many sounds: sounds of water gurgling, sounds of murmuring and clicks. The blue jays scold loudly, the little swallows dark about.
My dog Champ, the one with the nerve damage and the bandaged foot, always wants to fly when he sees the birds. The ravens are particularly tempting to him: they seem to enjoy hopping to bushes nearby, fluttering to the large oak trees, quirking their wise raven heads and inwardly laughing. Champ jumps up, and reaches the end of the leash, and looks at me with reproach.
My youngest child used to watch the ravens with much care, and ask me to teach him how to fly. These days he no longer believes I have that power. Back when he was smaller, and conscious of many things the rest of the family did that he could not, at least not yet, like walk or run (he walked at last when he was past 3, at a birthday celebration my mother arranged for me--it was a grand celebration)--when Gabe was smaller I think he figured the family did other things he couldn't do. Things like flying. And so he'd ask, and never be content when I'd say "my love, I don't know how to fly".
He still insists that the whole idea of dying, by the way, is silly. "It's a lie" he says, very sternly, when anyone tries to be philosophical and say "well, we all must die someday". No one dies, he tells us. No one at all. And especially not him, and not his papa.
It's interesting to listen to his beliefs. I don't really discount them either; Down Syndrome or not, my child is in touch with things I may not understand.
But today, as I walked with Champ and talked to the ravens and the little birds as well, and gazed at the forest covered hills that ring our town--a thousand shades of green, a flash of dogwood blazing white--and up at the white clouds in a blue sky--it was with a sense of great delight and gratitude. It was almost as if I could fly. I love these hills with a passion that is as sharp as my love of my children. It's a physical longing, a connection. The white flowers of the blackberry fill my heart with comfort.
This is what my brother means, I think, when he writes me about the peace that passes all understanding. He has these moments as well, with his cat, in his garden, along the banks of his northern river.
And it's what my youngest brother too expresses as he talks of his green fields.
When I was little I worried a bit that I loved this world so well--the hills I wandered, the flowers, the little birds. I don't worry any more--I'll meet the face of the universe wherever it shows up for me; so what if I am so simple it shows up in the raven cry or my dog's comical wiggles?
The snow picture? One my grandmother sent to my grandfather. She and her best friend Ruth are clowning in the snow, faces shining with cold and mischief. Yes, the letters continue. In the most recent my grandfather mentions the name of a friend or mentor who, he says, raised rather than lowered the average goodness of the human race. The name is the one they'd give my father a year later. In 1923 they are discussing war. My grandfather cynically says it will simply take a few good speeches and some flag waving and a brass band and the country will be ready for yet another war to end all wars. My grandmother says she cannot bear to think so; she hates war with ever fiber in her being.
And she continued to do so, seeing her sons to two wars, her grandson to another, her husband having fought in the first world war. I remember talking with her during the Vietnam War when she said that she supported my peace activism a hundred percent.
She was quite the spitfire, my grandmother. But by February 1923 they are both being open about their love for each other, trying to figure out if he should go north--where the snow is still falling, witness the photograph--or if she should venture to Los Angeles and see oranges on their trees.
I know the oranges won out, somehow.
Meanwhile, back in 2006, after a busy day at the bookstore, I went out to plant some sunflower seeds sent me from an Indian tribe in North Dakota. While I was pressing them into the ground one of the street guys came up. "Do you have food in there now?" he asked, staggering a little with drink. "well, no" I said at first, thinking he was asking about the lunches I often serve here--the last one was wonderful little spiced turnovers with sauce, brought to me by the guys who work at the local market: they'd been trying to learn some new tasties for the deli; they had extra, would I get them out to people? Well, sure thing. But today...I quickly amended my "no". Let's see, I said, I'm sure I can find something for you.
Sandwiches are always a quick option. I had cheese and lettuce and even some pickles; a handful of crisp apples, some nuts and raisins. He was happy. I also brought some food to the quiet young man who reads science fiction ("It keeps me out of trouble"). I put aside good books for him, and often talk with him as I work in the parking lot garden. He grew up in orphanages and foster homes, like many who are wandering the street. It's easier under the stars than in the institutions, in his opinion. Someday I'll hear more of his stories, perhaps.
Or perhaps not. They pass through, they pause sometimes. A little like the birds.
As I was preparing to sit and finish the huge and beautifully written and heartbreaking new book by Robert Fisk (The Great War for Civilisation) my daugher showed up. "Mom, there's a bird over in the laundromat, and she's frightened". It was a break from Fisk's eloquent stories of war, and war, and war.
The little blackbird was indeed frightened. I tried to coax her, herd her, catch her. It was the woman who cleans at night who thought of a towel, and we used it to safely snatch her, unharmed, and release her to the freedom of the air. She flew quickly to the green hills I love.
The pomegranate has just begun flowering. The crescent moon is lovely in tonight's sky.
Sometimes it is the smallest things upon which we rest our hearts.