Early Morning in Maine

How is it we can miss what we never had? Looking out to a northern ocean flecked with islands, the day’s light a brooding one and the sloop’s sails tucked away at rest, I acknowledge it happens but had not found words to make sense of it until now. Some things we know how to say; others we only feel.

Very early on a summer day the sun rose over Belfast, among the quietest of Maine’s coastal towns. Staying alone in a single-room cottage on the shore, not much effort nor time was needed to walk to the water. I only had to roll over – and over – until I’d rolled enough that I was no longer in the bed. Moments and slip-on shoes later, standing at the water’s edge the horizon mirrored still-dim morning light.

No one walked the beach at this hour, other than a man several yards down. He kept to himself atop a boulder, reading a book. I wonder when I spot a fellow solitary human: Are they like me?

Among general populations I don’t believe many are. How many times have I been drawn to these off-the-beaten-path destinations—in which I think other people should also want to spend time—to find I am the only one there? I have lost count.

Sometimes I’ll reach a nowhere-type place and find one or two strangers also present, and can’t help but romanticize the idea that they might be my (long sought after) mirror. Something within them must be the same something within me that brought us both here at the same time? The most rational sliver of my brain registers this as coincidence, yet I continue to agnostically follow magnets that push and pull and lead me to see signs when, in retrospect, there were none.

Don’t we all want to live this way? Isn’t seeing signs the same as having hope, and isn’t hope the most valuable possession of all?

Often, I hold to the idea that someone is out there, like me, standing on an empty shore or the side of a mountain or driving a little nothing of a country road, half stuck inside their memories and half wondering if another human is doing the same thing they are and thinking the same thoughts that they are thinking at that very moment.

If so: I have been missing you, without having had you, all this time.

(first written September 8, 2018)

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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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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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The 20s: Looking Back

There will be one night when you stay up writing your novel in hopes of creating a best-seller to save you from your 9-5, and there will be one morning where you wake before the alarm and brave Monday with a can-do fierceness that does not question your current career.

There will be dreamy hours spent counting the miles and minutes between cities on digital (possibly fold out) maps, and the same amount of time will be spent in the corner of yours or someone else’s couch with a glass of wine thinking, This is such a great life I have right here.

Sometimes you will miss your long lost loves and other days you will bid them good riddance and laugh at how you could have ever wound up together, and some days you will feel both emotions in the span of morning-to-night. Other days, none of this steps foot into your mind.

On possessing youth: in the beginning of this decade it goes unquestioned, in the middle it is a question unnecessarily asked–you are still young but sense the approach of a certain age–and at the end it is only youth compared to those born before you. None of this is good or bad; your age is what you make of it as much as you can, and the rest is a set of societal norms that you don’t have time to change. Bow down before them; let them roll over your back in the way of diving under an ocean wave, coming up on the other side to find it much calmer the further out you get.

You will know yourself. And then you will change and not know, adapt, set your course, and change again. This is like sailing after moving islands. The winds will do their work on your vessel; keep tight hold of your sails and maneuver to avoid the storms as best you can. Brave the storms you must face. A crew member or two, not usually more than three, is useful in inclement weather.

Stay careful not to label changing your mind and quitting one path to pursue another avenue as “giving up” nor “failure.” Unavoidable failure is not the same as controlled failure if we have done what we can, and keep in mind that our best now is not what our best will be in 1, 5 and 10 years.

To retrospectively judge our younger selves is a disservice (unless you mean to learn from it, but it is important only to dwell long enough to learn and not dwell for the sake of regret). We have been naive and ignorant, but these are not sins we controlled nor will we ever completely master. We do our best with what we know at the time. We share similar mistakes just as we share this human experience, and this is a history that alone and together we can forgive and, more importantly, embrace and celebrate.

(first written August 14, 2014)

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