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)