Skitterings

Winter morning, below freezing, ground covered with thick layer of frost like unto snow. Oyster-gray sky streaked with clouds aflame with sunrise. Breathtaking colors. I drive to work, looking for magisterial hawks perched on power lines. None to be seen. At the corner where the patch of woods has been cleared, old tobacco barns are melting into the stubble, overlaid with a thin veneer of crystal. So beautiful, I say aloud. Something pure remains in the devastation. I cannot think of what. I drive on, pondering destruction and human hunger for it.

In the new rose-light little birds skitter up from the wood-edged fields. What type of birds they are, I cannot determine, just upward movement and wings. A strange line plays in my head: This day your life will be required of you. I suppose it’s born of constant murder in the news and too much reading, this very morning the strange coincidence of Diana, Princess of Wales, attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Did the struggling Diana sense any foreshadowing?

Why am I even thinking of these things during such a glorious dawn?

A shape swoops from the right, directly in the path of my car…surely a bird. I hear no thunk. I see no skittering escape in my rearview mirror.

The bird—if in fact it was—must be caught in the grille of my car. This happened once, long ago, when I was driving a different vehicle: I discovered a dead cardinal hanging partway under the car. Why, why do they fly so low?

I will have to stop and check. There’s nowhere to pull over on these winding backroads frequented by too-fast drivers and farm equipment.

There’s a tiny church tucked in the woods up ahead, past the intersection. Steep driveway, deserted area, but I have to get out and look.

Nothing ensnared on the wide chrome grille of my old car. Beneath the grille, however, are unscreened compartments and there, on the dark, recessed shelf, is a bird.

Alive and moving around. Gray, orange, and cloud-white, like the morning.

Oh, bird.

I take off my heavy black cardigan, wrap it around my hands, and reach in.

Gently, gently… then a soft, warm weight is in my sweatered hands. I make sure to cover its wings to avoid panicked and possibly injurious flapping. Its head is gray. Small gray beak opens and closes without a sound. Its eye, turned toward me, has a faint purplish hue, slightly reminiscent of my pet parakeet when I was six. The gray back and pale-orange coloring on the breast had me thinking robin, but now I can see it’s not. I don’t know what kind of bird this is.

Oh, little bird. I am sorry. As if my speaking will help, somehow.

I cannot stand here gawking at it. The creature has survived the trauma of my car; I don’t want it to die from terror of me.

I think of being in the hands of God.

Please don’t let it die, I pray. Is this a selfish prayer? I don’t know how badly the bird is damaged.

And what am I going to do with it now.

The woods…I skim for a sheltered spot. I step in the leaves and a sudden sound startles me: a rabbit goes skittering away, its big white cottontail bobbing against the sepia scenery. I had no idea it was there. What else is here that I cannot see—? I am shivering. I find a small ridge of leaves and pine straw by a bit of barren brush and there I lay the bird.

The bird turns itself from side to breast, facedown. There’s a bit of white edging on its tail feathers. I wish for to something cover it. The morning is so cold. My sweater might entangle its legs; scraping pine straw over it might alarm it.

I will go. I will not stay to see the outcome. It will recover, or it won’t. I recall the woodpecker that flew smack into the glass wall of the school where I work; it landed on its back in the flowerbed mulch and lay so still I was sure its neck was broken. Within a moment, it managed to flip itself right side up, ruffled its feathers, and flew off—zip!—as if nothing had happened. The robin I extricated from the grille of my sister-in-law’s car, having traveled miles down the interstate at 70+ mph, hopped around my backyard for a day before it flew away. Birds are hardier than they look…at least robins and woodpeckers are.

Still.

Should this pretty little bird die or recoup…it will be in its own natural setting.

In the hands of God. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father...

It is hard, yes, to leave it there and walk away. But I have done so before. With people whom I loved very much.

It is Yours.

Back in the car, I circle the tiny church named for St. John, heading on toward crystal-coated fields and misty-mirror ponds and the work that lies ahead. The little bird will never know that I will remember it, that it’s now part of me, stuck to my soul as long as I live. I know it and that is enough on this cold, fiery-sky morning, orange and gray, breathtaking glory tinged with, but not diminished by, loss.

“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”Psalm 139:9-10 (my favorite of the Psalms). This is the view leaving my neighborhood.

As best I can determine: My unexpected passenger was a female eastern bluebird.

DSC_3019e eastern bluebird–female. jjjj56cpCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Mystery prompts…

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Exploring mysteries, here’s a list of questions that have magically appeared in my supposed-to-be-empty WordPress blog posts this month:

What is one thing that you would change about myself?

What are five things you’re good at?

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited? Where is it?

What big events have taken place in your life over the last year?

What could you do less of?

Have you ever performed on stage or given a speech?

Tell about your first day at something—school, work, as a parent, etc.

What skills or lessons have you learned recently?

Is your life today where you pictured it a year ago?

All you writer-friends out there know the power of a good prompt for overcoming writer’s block, for reaching far and deep, tapping into memory and emotion. Writing itself is a release. It is healing. Perhaps even preventive medicine. Writing is a unique means of expression, of thinking, of creativity, of craftsmanship. It is a singular key for unlocking many mysteries, the greatest of all being yourself.

When gifts are offered, take them…they’re meant for your benefit, enjoyment, edification. The WordPress elves at work behind the scenes here clearly know this. These prompts are likely meant to be answered one by one (I have written to two: one thing I would change about myself and what skills I’ve learned recently) but today I wonder if I could tie them all into one reflection. For better or worse, here goes…

It is said that change is constant. I am constantly changing, growing older, a little slower. I would not change this. It is the price of having been alive a while. I’m willing to pay it. What one thing would I change about myself? My answer now would be different than it would have been years ago. I might have chosen something superficial, having to do with my appearance. Now I am much more concerned with my spirit. How do I narrow what I’d change to just one thing? I should choose to be more gracious, patient, forgiving, even loving…but as I write, the word listen blankets everything else that comes to mind. I would listen to others more. Not with my ears. With my soul. To hear what lies behind their words, their actions. Words are a thing I’m good with, usually. Were I to comprise a list of five things I’m good at, words are linked to at least half of it: I’m good at reading, writing (so I’m told…I do love it and work at it), imagining, wondering, and drinking coffee. In a way these are the five pillars of my daily life, the things I enjoy most, next to time spent with my family. When my boys were small my grandmothers told me that I was a good mother. Their simple proclamation, a revelation of their great esteem for motherhood, felt like the bestowment of a royal title. My boys have the final say, however. Children know all their parents’ flaws, eventually. What matters is that they know how much they are loved and that they learn to love. It is the beginning of belonging. It is why, when asked if I have a favorite place, I’m always going to talk about my grandparents’ home deep in the countryside, along an old dirt road (it’s gravel now). I haven’t been since the house has been torn down and a new one built for a young family. While I dread going because of that, another part of me desperately longs to go…to walk the old road once more, to remember being a child, hearing my grandmother’s old, old stories and my grandfather’s raspy, warm I love you when he offered his clean-shaven cheek to me for a goodnight kiss… again, listen. I imagine sensing them near even if all I hear is the breeze rustling the Spanish moss which wasn’t there, hanging there from the treetops, when I was a child. Once upon a time, though, there were little bridges along the road, due to the many canals…I don’t know what became of those bridges. But the tiny church at the crossroads remains, where my grandparents are buried with generations of my ancestors. One day soon, I must go. I carry them all and their stories with me… I am their story, the continuation of it, as my granddaughters are mine. They are the greatest event of my life in the last three years, one coming into our family at age three and the other born just over a year ago. They are the big event of my every day. I can almost hear Grandma chuckling…now you understand. Listen, listen. Carve time away from the clamor of the world to be still…to minimize distractions, to be fully present when another human is speaking to me, especially my young ones, especially my quiet son with the musical gifts and beautiful singing voice. So many layers there. Listen. I need to be less concerned with work; it is my livelihood, not my life. The family is my life. My pastor-husband, my pastor-son and his girls, The Boy and his music and funeral ministry, all our dogs, the church, the faith, the Lord God, Giver of all good gifts, including life, are my life. How perfect are His ways. Long ago when I was performing in plays and traveling to audition for acting school in New York, I could not have dreamed it would lead me to where I am now, that at nineteen I’d meet the man I’d marry through community theater. The title of that play: Whose Life Is It Anyway? Not just mine. Ours. It was ordained. I had an inkling of it, that first day after we were married, when we stood in the crashing ocean waves and I held onto my new gold wedding band for dear life, for fear of losing it. I knew salt isn’t good for jewelry. I just couldn’t bring myself to remove the ring. New beginnings are so fragile at first. As are new ideas. All these years into our journey, we still look for the new even within the old: we are going to learn how to use that Dobsonian telescope I got us for Christmas. We shall soon be wandering among the stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, all extending their glittering invitation every cold, cold night. I just learned I wasn’t using the finderscope properly. How poetic. Metaphorical. That’s what writing is for me… a finderscope. Through it I see the memories, the gratitude, the loves of my life…the light from years past, still meeting me right where I am today; I would not change a thing about that.

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with thanks to WordPress for the magical prompts and to Two Writing Teachers for the story-sharing place.

Happy holidays to all.

Autumn wings haiku

Familiar cheeping
at dusk, out on the front porch
-can it really be?

Opening the door
a fluttering of feathered wings
-the finches remain?

Should I be so blessed?
I shall need to buy some seed
for the frost has come.

House Finch with Goldfinch. beaucon. CC BY-NC 2.0.

House finches are regular nesters in my front door wreath from Eastertime through the summer; I have not been aware of their remaining so close by in the autumn months. They aren’t nesting now and as yet I haven’t ascertained where exactly they’re living, only that it’s somewhere near the porch. I see them fly when we pull up in the driveway, and when we open the front door. I can’t even get a good look at them; they’re being evasive.

Their presence lifts my spirit immeasurably: Take heart, be of good cheer, we are still here… the fluttering of wings was so near my face when I opened the door in the dark after hearing the familiar bird voice. It wasn’t alarming. Out in the yawning chasm of night flew the little bird, with my soul tethered to it by inexplicable hope.

Man and dog

On my drive to work
at the stop sign
where the grassy green field
borders the rail-fence pasture
where two horses graze
beside the goat pen
where fat little
brown-and-white goats
rest atop their knees
beside the still waters
of the glassy pond
with rising mist

I see a man
walking his old, old dog
(its body is black
but its face as white
as snow)

as I pass
they walk and walk
in the autumn-chill
of another new day
against a backdrop
of brilliant red-orange-gold
and moody sky

the dog’s amber eyes gleam
as it it chugs along
despite weary bones

somehow
this continuity
this reliability
this faithfulness
every morning
is a tonic
to my soul

a shot of goodness
an understanding
that in the far, quiet reaches
something is right
so right
with the world

Cornfield Man. h.koppdelaneyCC BY-ND 2.0.

Autumn glory

This morning
was glorious

the strange autumn slant of light
catching the red-gold-orange flames
of trees, reaching their limbs
up to a brooding gray sky
meeting still-green fields
at the horizon

such a study in color
that I, mere mortal observer,
lost myself in the awe
of indescribable beauty

I could have lived
a thousand years
and not lost my breath
as I did this morning

marveling
wondering
at how such a beautiful world
can be so broken

Autumn Landscape. blmiers2CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Cotton tales

Cotton in the fields
reminds me of Granddaddy,
his recollections…

farm community
in friendly competition
out picking all day

he would pick the most,
winning proud recognition
when his load was weighed

the landowners then
permitted his returning
after the harvest

to strip the remnants
for himself, gleaning enough
to buy shotgun shells

Cotton fields abound this season in eastern Virginia and North Carolina

Modern cotton bales, waiting to be ginned

Harvested cotton field, with remaining bits my grandfather would gather to afford his shotgun shells. He called this “scripping.” When listening to his stories, I could envision him in his youth, strong and determined, never complaining of the laboriousness. His words only radiated nostalgic warmth and pride that he was able. Eventually, he said, the boll weevil forced out cotton and tobacco replaced it as the community’s cash crop. In the Depression, Granddaddy was a sharecropper; my father was born in a tenant farmer house. Eventually my grandfather “couldn’t make a go of it” and would find work in the shipyard three hours away, staying in a boarding house all week and returning to his family on weekends…for ten years, until the oldest children graduated from high school and he moved the family. Farming remained his love, however, for the remainder of his days. After retiring, he and Grandma moved back home where he planted glorious vegetable gardens, one of my own most-loved memories.

Anole awe

Adaptability
is the key
to surviving
and savoring
your days
in the sun

Anolis carolinensis, green anole, Carolina anole: call it what you will, it is hanging out on the side of the house, basking in the October afternoon sun, feeling green…

…while its pal here, hanging out six inches away, momentarily eschews greenness for a more autumnal hue. Green anoles are sometimes called American chameleons.

They are also considered signs of good luck, prosperity, renewal, and healing, due to their ability to regenerate their tails.

The anole figures large in Celtic lore as a spiritual guide and a symbol of life, death, and rebirth.

You have to wonder, looking at their tiny, wise, ancient eyes…

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with thanks to E. Johnson for the photos