Button Daisies

Once I dreamed about a
downhill, quiet country road with
a pickup lazily parked on the side,
flanked by modest houses
and sided by aging fir trees.

One day while walking beyond
the church fields, I came to
such a road and realized
it had not been a dream, but
a partially-there memory
of something real from
many years earlier.

How strange to recognize
places we do not remember.
Places we’ve not thought of for years
suddenly exude history, home.

***

In my mind I picture button daisies
I am very young, picking them
one-by-one
from a sloping patch of grass
wondering how I might intertwine
their stems into a bracelet.

My family is nearby. Was there water?
I think I spy shoreline.
A building to my right is
remembered as a castle, but
given the tricks the mind plays
it was likely not so grandiose
(not a bad thing, to remember
the past as better than it was)

I must ask Mom about this memory
twenty-something years in the past
Where did it take place?
Are the daisies still there?

There are many things to ask, to know
before time runs out.

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Harriett’s Nest

The backyard hummingbirds have been fighting lately and I’ve been sitting under the honeysuckle listening to their mating wars rage on. It’s surprising how maddened animals become as they follow the drive to reproduce.

Among the hummingbirds are an assortment of others who inhabit the nearby trees and sky. In the summer the mockingbird keeps everyone up at inopportune hours of the night, and a flock of out-of-place parakeets circles around the house once or twice a year (perhaps more often, but I do not constantly stand on the front stoop watching for their green wings to come into view). A hawk hunts in the canyon two blocks away; I have seen him resting on the lower railings of the wooden bridge, have been startled as he swooped in front of me mid-day and have photographed him in the branches of the eucalyptus tree.

Doves and pigeons, the common and dull kind but I feel a liking for them anyway, line up on telephone wires year-round. They look most striking with their silhouettes outlined against morning fog, which from my front door that looks out to the bay I can see approaching as early as the night before it rolls in (it is the foggy mornings and sunless marine layer days that most facilitate my writing; at these times I feel closest to myself).

There is an owl that silently haunts the night, who I have seen only twice in three years and who is so without sound, so fleeting, I could have just as easily imagined him. Yesterday a gull drifted above our roof.

There are, finally, many small birds who live here and, in looking enough like each other, are often disregarded given many people’s preference for hawks and herons and greater birds. Often, perching birds (as naturalists call them) are grouped together in our minds as the uncelebrated “birds in the yard” because truly what difference does it make if they are a finch or a nuthatch or a wren? To most of us, like air they are simply there and like breathing they simply happen.

But not Harriett, a small bird of what species I do not know, but in one season of her life (and mine) managed to add to my melancholy and then, after she was gone she unknowingly (because of course, she is a bird) lent me hope.

I will begin by saying that at some point Harriett died, or so I assume because one day she stopped coming back. She had spent several days collecting twigs for her nest which I know because I walked out onto my stoop last year and caught her in the process of it all. I had told this news of a new nesting bird to my family (it was my sister who named her Harriett) and friends who don’t mind such trivial life updates, and for a while we waited for babies.

But Harriett disappeared and babies never came, and at the end of her nesting season I had only that…a nest. An empty house of sticks in the corner of the beams above my door. And not too long after, when the summer garden ended and the lettuce had bolted and become no good and the tomatoes turned brown and barren there suddenly wasn’t much life at all outside my door, and the fall and winter were no better.

Spring came late and quietly this year and I put off gardening and considered skipping it altogether, for what reason I can’t quite say because I certainly had the time, but I recall wondering what is the point as we do to ourselves here and there when melancholy, while beautiful in small doses, grows too big and becomes too heavy to carry. It is hard to move under such weight.

At such points we can actively seek help, or we can let time do what it does: pass and heal. Through that winter I had chosen to lie submissive and dormant while the days moved by me. During those months of long nights, time roughly stitched me back together in places that had come apart. It was not a perfect fix, and by spring it was not enough to inspire a garden, but it was enough to keep going. Sometimes this is all we can ask for. To want to wake up: this alone is worth our quiet gratitude.

Then, hope: I stood at the door this past week and looked up to see tail-feathers sticking out over the edge of the beams. When I moved closer she flew to a nearby tree and watched and waited for me to go so she could return to her adopted nest – the one Harriett left behind, still unused. So it seems that, despite an unusually long and numb winter, we have been given another chance at eggs becoming baby birds and seeds becoming gardens and life beginning again.

(first written April 25, 2018; revised for ColetteKay.com)

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How to Write Better

In the morning do not play music,
there are birds to do this for you.
Wind circles outside the window
and inside the small dog can
be heard breathing, in, out.

Make your bed if you like,
but consider it likely that
stacks of gently used books
will serve as enough decor
if it is a writer’s spirit you have.

The feet and the ground were
made to touch; during walks
stand planted in the grass.
Greet the earth, sliding petals
between thumb and finger

and when it comes time to eat
forgo prepping to spoon the
avocado into your mouth, do
no more than peel the orange.

Go without, give it away,
make room, and then
make more room.

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Nurse Logs

The forest knows about rebirth.
New life grows on fallen trees
one story deteriorating as
another sees first light, reborn
from what has been left behind

I waited once to be a nurse log
and imagine others have, too,
to take what can no longer be
useful, and from our remains
spring up anew and live again

How long does it take?
How quickly can this grow?
Hurry, forest, hurry.
We long to see you
with young eyes.

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Open Road Therapy

In the book Roads by Larry McMurtry (author of Lonesome Dove), he writes:

“Being alone in the car is to be protected for a time from the pressures of day-to-day life; it’s like being in one’s own time machine, in which the mind can rove ahead to the future or scan the past.”

While this quote might best apply to road-trippers, I also find McMurtry’s sentiment to apply to everyday driving – to and from work, to the grocery and so on. There is something therapeutic about the way being alone in a car temporarily turns off the socially-constructed spotlight we constantly perform in. We become fleetingly able to experience our own internal dialogue, our own humanity, without interruption. I would even guess that most of us are more similar to each other during these moments of aloneness than we are when we’re back in the spotlight.

Five years back, during 52 almost-consecutive days on the road, I split my time evenly between the deserts and forests of the American West and British Columbia. Enough time in either environment can cause the mind to wander, and I wonder about the contemplative thoughts such empty stretches of road have incubated for others? I find answers, often questions, occasional forgiveness and by the end of the day a tiredness that folds me into bed and allows me to give in to life as it is, and to myself as I am. After a day of driving the mind does not ask why nor how nor am I enough. It evaluates when energy exists to be burned.

(first written July 6, 2015; revised for ColetteKay.com)

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