The Faithful Pursuit

Every morning I drive east along the Columbia River to get to work. The haze of early light casts the rocky landscape in gray and blue lines. Mount Hood’s perfect cone is sometimes visible in front of me. Since spring, a large nest and birds have also become part of the landscape. The forty-inch nest rests on a platform constructed above a power pole. This was my first introduction to the pair who, according to scientific research, has mated for life, reuniting with each other every spring in the same nesting site. Before spotting the nest and birds, I knew nothing about them. I was awestruck and curious.

One evening, I pulled off the road to look at them with the weathered Airguide binoculars of my great Aunt Ruby. I saw two birds almost the size of eagles with dark back feathers. The breast and head were white, a brown stripe extending from the eye. One of them spotted me watching from below and whistled loudly. They are called Osprey, I later learned, or Sea Eagle in Latin.

My friend Mel once told me that in her work counting and identifying birds during their migration, she had to be careful to distinguish the residents from the migrators. “How can you tell,” I asked. “Sometimes you can’t,” she told me. I could relate. I silently questioned people in the same manner, “Are you a resident or just passing through?” For most of my life the two have melded together, residing and passing through at the same time. Unlike the Osprey who nest and migrate with consistent regularity, I seemed to have a migrating residency to the tick of my own inner, irregular clock.

I admired the Osprey’s determination to show up, year after year, to the same place and to the same mate. Scientists call this “nest site fidelity,” so strong is their connection that attempts to move their nesting site are more successful if sticks from the old nest are provided. Mates migrate separately, each on their own route, to places south like Mexico or Honduras, and return, like the Osprey on 145th, to an electrical pole beside a busy road. The location, even the sticks that they formed into a nest the year before, seem to be sacred. Barring difficulties they may face on their journey, they find their way home.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Osprey, imagining the simplicity of their lives and coveting their loyalty. Some part of me deeply desires attachment to location, to know a place well and to come back to it. But I know that it's not that simple. Osprey has struggled to survive through environmental poisoning, and the disappearance of forested areas along water has forced them to build their nests on electrified power poles. Mel, the friend I mentioned at the start, told me of an experience that sums this up well. Finding a dead warbler at the end of the migrating season, she was stunned by both the fragility and strength she saw demonstrated by its life. “It flew all the way from Guatemala just to die hitting a window.” She paused long, letting out a guttural exhale. Finally, she said, “You know, there are so many creatures out there just trying to make a living.” I realized that was the one unifying life element for us all, whether we settle in and show up like the Osprey, or keep moving on as I have done, we are all just trying to live. Either way, it’s a struggle we faithfully pursue.

(Originally published in Issue 2 of the Northwest Women's Journal)

One breath

The spider has repaired its web in the upper corner of the back door. Four mosquitoes are caught, one moves to free itself. I want to intervene and help but in another moment, I'd kill it if I could. Compassion arises when the suffering is seen; what is it in me that wants to free the caught and kill the free?

I'm surprised there are mosquitoes in October, that this is the only creature trapped. I watch the spider every day. Watch it re-weave the web every morning after being obliterated by the night, starting with only a few lines connected to the frame. I think this has to be a poor place for a web, but the spider doesn't seem to mind the daily task. Now complete, symmetrical, cyclical, squared, the spider sits full-bodied and still in the center. My friend, I call it.

I want to save the mosquito and I don't. I revere the spider and yet would brush it off of me. Pondering life at this moment, revering, leaving alone, and killing, I also must tell you that right beside the door on the kitchen counter is a fruit fly trap, a cone of paper stuck in a mason jar to lure them into the fermented smell of smashed fruit soaked in apple cider vinegar. They can't get out once they go in.

Just yesterday a bird ran into the back door window, stunned, damaged, it didn't move. I stayed with it for forty minutes, gave it Reiki and talked sweet until it flew away.

There is only one cycle? It's not a cycle? A vibration? A dimension? When did we start calling it all "life" and "death"?

We, the pretenders

I sit in the front window of this vegan cafe on Hawthorne, the land of excess, beggars, skinny jeans, vintage, and breakfast all day. I watch a man wake up from his flattened cardboard across the street from my perch. One shoe on, the other I spot on the sidewalk in a jumble of things; I wonder if he knows where it is, if I should tell him. I notice he's in front of a store called Harmony, a place that sells meditation pillows and incense. He begins arranging things, moving between the sidewalk and two grocery carts heaped with plastic bags, and as he does his cargo spreads out even further. People step around him. I feel like the observer in a zoo, he the animal, but I'm the one enclosed by glass and concrete.

An hour has passed; he's moved one store down to Presents of Mind. His movements repetitive now, a slow stalling of time, heavy limbs and he stumbles and catches himself on his cart. Sucks air and takes a full outstretched palm to the side of his head, wipes, stumbles again and straightens up. Picks up each foot, stomps the ground, bends his knees, and pulls from his sweatshirt pouch a small white paper. He smooths it between his fingers, forms a dip, and with his other hand reaches into his pouch, places a pinch in the dip, stumbles, settles, fingers the paper back and forth and rolls. This he brings to his lips, lights and breathes. This that has never left him. In a billow of smoke, he pushes on past Starbucks.

So much like everyone. Trying to get our shit together, moving between things and places, time slipping, stumbling and settling, having a fix, and finding a moment of grace.

Migrations

I see hummingbirds, two and three at a time. Shiny green backs, shiny like beetles, one with a red spot on her throat. They wait on the tree limbs above me while I water in the morning, then buzz down inch-by-inch to the stream of mist. Closer and closer, finally diving into the water, moving in and out like children playing in a summer sprinkler.

I see woodpeckers. I see crows. Gangs of blue jays. I see jets, sometimes even the airline name on the tail. I'm in the British Airways flight path. I wonder if I'd recognize my own yard. I see the sky and all that's in view above me. Tree tops, two huge old pines that belong to neighbors, and my own backyard trees: pear, apple, aspen, maple, and others I do not know.

I recently moved from thirty acres, from distance. In the city now fenced in, surrounded by trees, my view moves up. I notice all the birds that live above me, start to recognize each as they descend to perch. Many trees and animals but the pear tree is the place of democracy, where all come, even a hawk once, squirrels, and a baby raccoon I discovered the other night, they all meet there.

But it's the birds that capture me. So many, so busy, they fly in flocks and singles. I sit wishing I had that much fury in my flight. And then I remember, it's September; they have plans. What must it be like to have that order?

To not think your way into instinct but merely go?

I'd Like To Talk To You

I walked slowly from booth to booth, middle of the first day of the wellness expo. It seemed like I was the only customer; everyone else behind a table or at a workshop in the adjoining rooms. Big eyes and welcomes met me as I passed, and my heart was so thin that day that I would have let any one of them take me home to a nest for safekeeping. Then a woman beckoned me.

"Come here, honey. Come here." She held out her hand to me and I considered flying right into it.

Hair curly and short, pushed over to one side, a psychic Cyndi Lauper in her late 60s. Flowing dress, blue piercing eyes and blue shadow to match. The kind you paint on, maybe Mary Kay. And for some reason I recall her little teeth like that of a child, chipped and crooked and turned different directions, endearing and mesmerizing. Or maybe I was drawn to her voice like liquor coating me with warmth, a tingle on the skin as I slid my hand into hers.

"Your first question is free and your second is a hundred dollars," she said.

I laughed, at her grip and blue eyes on me; she did not smile. But also I laughed at the absurdity of wanting so much and all the answers and not having a single question.

Finally, I said, "I'm having a tough time." She held me, pulled me even closer to her and looked down at the table, no longer meeting my eyes. Her voice lowered, different, she told me about light and letting go and talked of sex, of lineage, my grandmother.

Then she looked up, dropped my hand, thump on the table, and began talking to another woman walking by the booth. My heart a flutter, flying back inside of me, safe.

Best I Can Do

Another dead bird. Feathers everywhere. One claw left. Another mess for me to reconcile. What was I doing when it happened, inside looking at a screen? A few times I thought I heard something, water dripping, ice melting, a scream. Then I thought, no, it's a child playing in the snow. Was it really death I heard, the shrill of last possibilities?

I can't stop the cats; they do what they do and they don't discriminate, unlike me. I tell them no birds, no chipmunks, no rabbits. Only mice and moles that are in or near the house. They don't understand, they do what they do. Everyone has their own take on this--who is the invader and what is being invaded?

I cleaned up the rug and thought of the bird I saved last week. Dropped a kitchen towel over it and swooped it up into a box. Sat with it in the bathroom until she caught her breath. I can't even tell you what she looked like; all I remember is watching the rise and fall of her chest. And then she chirped, walked, and eventually tried to fly from her box. I was so focused I didn't even name her, but then she didn't need it, I suppose. I walked her covered up in the box to the woods and opened it up in a thick of trees. She flew to the first one, only a few back feathers left to get her there, and we watched each other a moment before she disappeared.

I went back to the house and gathered her feathers.

 

My view of middle America

Long lush gentle sloping ridges and fat bunched craggy ridges. Pointed tops. Flat tops. Quick narrow lines and wide slopes. An indescribable patternless pattern belonging to a language of sight and feeling.

What are the words for something so beautifully wonderfully its own? Like the lines and folds of the aged body.

Red on red

My birthday and I drove myself to the city wearing red on red. A shoulderless, backless red silk shirt from my 30th and red pants from Portland. Brown open toe heels. Purple purse. Pink and purple shawl. It was no time for subtlety.

After wandering around shops and streets a few hours, I started happy hour at 3:30, a couple at the opposite end. It was raw oyster Monday and at first I said no. Ordered The Last Word with chili flakes and a salted rim and what wasn't sipped with the rum and Chartreuse I licked from the glass. With each sip I became less delicate, that's how it works. The cocktail, my birthday, the passing of time.

I texted a friend to join me. Ordered tiny toasts with smoked salmon, chives, and horseradish cream with a drizzle of oil, and even that I took up with my fork. I ordered soppressata, cured dried sausage thinly sliced and fluted like a flower with a dollop of chevre in the center. I drank my water. I drank my cocktail. I met the couple next to me. He talked, she didn't, and then arrived the soft slippery flesh of ten half-shells on ice, sliced lemon, cocktail sauce, shallot vinegar, a tiny three-pronged fork and a plate. He ate them all. By then four more people showed up and everyone was gulping oysters and stacking shells and ordering more.

I got three at first. Leaned over the big plate, loosened the muscle from the shell, added shallot vinegar and lemon, some of which I squirt on my neighbor's tie, and sucked it whole and fast. Then I got five more and a Pinot Grigio. My friend showed up and the couple next to me left. People started replacing each other and somehow when I got up from my bar stool, four hours had passed and another friend had arrived. Then another restaurant, a burger with cheese and pickle and a free slice of Happy Birthday brown sugar pie with whipped topping. The waitress apologized; they were out of candles.

At home late, satisfied, happy and full, I found out Robin Williams was dead. They told too much, and I obsessively read all of it, enough that the wind went out of me. Enough that I tried to guess where I was earlier in the day before happy hour when he took his life. I was on a sidewalk feeling a bit lonely, feeling a bit bright for a Monday. The place I wanted to eat brunch was closed, the sign said they'd gone celebrating and there was a birthday hat on the sign board. They'd forgotten mine, I chuckled. 

I wandered down to the book store hoping to find something to make me feel better. I picked up a small book by Neil Gaiman, a graduation speech he gave on art and life, and I read it standing at the stacks, cover-to-cover. I read about not giving up. Most of all, about enjoying the ride, living right inside of each moment's joy. I took a picture of the best quote with my phone:

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

I woke up the next morning sick as hell, just like the last time I ate oysters, but good. Very good and ready for the day. 


Pen on paper without a plan

At a coffee shop the other day, I sat alone with nothing but a latte in a brown cup, hands on the table top. It felt radical in the din of clangs and coffee pumps, conversations and phones. I remember a time not that long ago when having a coffee was an event, when sitting alone and looking at each other was the reason to be there in the first place.

I still go, look around, look for a set of eyes to meet mine, and enjoy my coffee. I pull out my notebook as I have done for decades now. Pull out a ballpoint pen and smooth the paper. It all meets in the moment: pen on paper without a plan, and everything around me still as exciting as it ever was.