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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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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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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