Cry

Originally composed and posted as “The cry” on Saturday, February 27, with thanks to Ruth at SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog for the initial inspiration to “write fast.” Reposted here today as a reminder that revision is also writing…

I heard it again. It stirred me from my luxurious Saturday-drowse. A loud cryyyy cryyy cryyy from the backyard, or very nearby. I threw off the blankets and ran out on the deck, promptly soaking my socks in the day-old rainwater.

I dreamt, once, that I was standing here exactly like this, looking up at the northwestern sky, when an eagle flew by. Bald eagles do live around here. I have seen them on occasion. I’m convinced that an eagle’s (big, sloppy) nest is on the top of a water tower on the highway around the bend. In my dream, I was awed by the eagle and knew it portended something good.

But eagles don’t have the beautiful, poignant cryyy cryyy cryyy I am hearing on this early, pearl-sky morning. All other life seems to be slumbering but for this phantom bird, the lusty rooster across the street, and me. Day is just barely fading in.

It cries again, in the stillness. The air rings with its sharpness, with the curve and edge of it.

It’s a hawk. It has to be. I’ve seen several in recent weeks, since the turn of the year. During an icy spell in January, when I went for a short walk in thin winter sunlight that gilded the bare trees and glittered on the grass, I watched a hawk gliding low overheard, never flapping its wings, staying aloft as if by magic.

Returning to the warmth of the house in my sodden socks, I make coffee and settle at my laptop to search.

Definitely not an eagle. That call is feeble in comparison to the one I just heard. I know hawks’ voices are dubbed for eagles’ in movies.

Not a red-tailed hawk, though. What a hair-raising, harrowing scream.

Then… yes!

A red-shouldered hawk. Fluid, syllabic, downward inflection. Exactly what I heard from somewhere over in the smattering of pines between my neighbor’s house and mine, where I dreamed the eagle flew. I’d rather hear this cry even if I cannot see the hawk. The sound scrapes against my heart. 

It has something to do with the aching aliveness of things, despite the hawk being a predator. If I want to focus on symbolism, there’s a lot: intuition, spirituality, power…

But now, now, as the rooster picks back up with his daylong rusty-bugle solo (that’s one vigorous creature!), there’s a familiar cheep cheep warble at the front door, so happy and so loud that it seems almost to be in my house.

The finches! They made their annual nest in my door wreath last spring but didn’t lay eggs as in previous years, when I held my granddaughter up to see the nestlings. For some reason, they disappeared. And left me bereft. One more little layer of heartache in a deeply heartrending year. When I took the wreath down in the fall, I mourned over the perfect, unused nest.

I saved it. I couldn’t toss such artistry away.

I put my spring wreath up early. Like, at the end of January.

When I went to look for the chattering finches just now, I couldn’t see them any more than I could see that hawk this morning; I believe the little birds were sitting in the wreath, voicing (to me) their delight. 

There’s likely to be babies at my door by Easter.

And, I hope, somewhere high in the lonesome pines.

Red-shouldered hawk. Don Miller. CC B

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The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year. I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 3, I am writing around a word beginning with letter c.

Periwinkle

Last week of February.

Winter wears on.

Trees hold up their naked, skeletal branches, exposing clumps of old birds’ nests. The world is colorless, like a vintage film, a study of grayscale contrasts. Only the pines, bent by a recent glazing of ice, remain green. My backyard is littered with their brokenness. Tufts of needles and a couple of large boughs are strewn across the dead, mud-puddled grass.

It is a time of enduring.

Little things go a long way.

I’ve written of the stab of joy on seeing a bluebird, that brilliant dash of color against this dreary backdrop, as something to treasure each day. Now, despite the cold, an unseen bird nearby sings a bright song to usher in the dawn while it is still dark: cheer cheer cheer… a cardinal. Another favorite bird. I long for its vivid red. Just this week I also heard the first metallic honk, honk of Canada geese, returning to nest.

Spring is afoot, aflight, audible, if not yet visible.

And then there is the flower.

I thought it was my eyes playing tricks.

In the old weathered pots on the back deck, amid the ruins of my geraniums, the trailing Vinca still lives. Pale, leafy strands spill across the boards like errant strands of hair. And in one pot… a spot of… what is that color? Lavender?

A closer examination: Two little periwinkle blooms. Five-petaled. Most unexpected. The vines weren’t blooming when I planted them in early summer. I honestly didn’t know they would. This necessitates research: Vinca blooms in “late spring through summer.”

Mine is blooming while it is yet winter. Surely a there’s metaphor in it. As in the cardinal’s bright song in the dark, just before light. Like the bluebird’s welcome spot of color, popping against the blah. More research, because for me symbolism has an irresistible allure: The color periwinkle represents serenity, calmness, winter, and ice. The flower itself, sentimental memories, nostalgia, new beginnings. I read that it can also represent mental acuity. That’s certainly welcome. In the Middle Ages periwinkle was associated with the Virgin Mary; look for these little blooms beside her in old stained-glass windows. The vine’s very name, Vinca, comes from the Roman word for “binding.” Garlands were made of it, for dead children as well as for criminals on their way to execution—good heavens. This pierces me; I shudder. More shades of Mary’s own story, that…we are, after, all barely a week into Lent.

I shall think of this as winter’s funerary flower, then. A little blue-violet garland on the season’s icy brow, bidding adieu.

In place of a eulogy for winter…note Wordsworth’s inclusion of the periwinkle in “Lines Written in Early Spring” (read the whole poem to see what it is really about):

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 
And ’tis my faith that every flower 
Enjoys the air it breathes. 

The birds around me hopped and played, 
Their thoughts I cannot measure:— 
But the least motion which they made 
It seemed a thrill of pleasure. 

All I know with certainty is that this little bloom, accompanied by increasingly-present birds, brings a thrill of promise.

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-with gratitude to the weekly Slice of Life storytellers at Two Writing Teachers, a bright spot in every week.
Here’s to the upcoming daily writing challenge in March!

Blue Valentine

Sunday dawns oyster gray, cold.

Rain rolls down the windows like tear-streaks of the wind, which howls in anguish under the eaves like a maimed creature.

In the backyard, pines stand in solidarity, like soldiers at a burial. Knee-deep in a sea of mud.

All dreary in its own right. I do not need to color it more so with my own thoughts, or to further stir my restive soul. Day after day after day of rain. No snow. At least no ice.

Am I unhappy?

No.

It’s Valentine’s Day. My husband and I have exchanged cards, chocolate, a sampler of hot sauces. “Burning Love,” the box reads. The flames on it are certainly a bright spot.

Am I tired?

Not as much as I was at the end of the workweek, the final one of remote teaching. We return to campus this week. Hard to envision the epic regulations to be enforced, the acrobatics of keeping elementary children distanced in imaginary bubbles.

Am I worried?

Concerned is a better word. It is a time to be like the pines, standing in solidarity despite the grayness, the bleakness, the muddiness, the wearing-on of things. I don’t know if I have it in me. This is not like me. My patience is peeled unusually thin; turpentine burns too near the surface. I do not like the feel of it.

Is my spirit failing me this Sunday morning? I should think not. It is a seasoned spirit. Today also happens to be the anniversary of my husband’s ordination, many, many years ago. We were so young, setting our feet on a path we could not clearly see, but we walked, and we walked, moment by moment, in sun, in shadows, over years, across decades…and here we are. I am grateful. He has already gone to church. I am getting ready, mulling this miserable scene beyond the blinds. I should have kept them closed.

I wish I could see the bluebird. He shows up almost every day, if I’m watching at the right time. He sits on the deck railing for long stretches. Little messenger of brightness.

Why should seeing him make me feel better-? Maybe hope is electric blue. Never thought of that before.

I sigh, and am turning away, when I catch a fluttering of wings…

The female. Not the bright blue I am longing for, but still. This means a nest may be in the works, nearby! Might I see baby bluebirds this spring? Dare I hope for such bounty? Do I deserve it?

She takes a bath, there on the railing. I think of Esther’s yearlong preparation for her union with the King.

And then my little lady bird is gone. I wait. The railing remains bare. He will not come. Maybe it’s the rain. I can’t keep watching. Must get to church or I will not be in good graces with the pastor, which is a problem I don’t need, since I live with him.

Happy Valentine’s Day, bluebirds, I say in my mind as I bundle up to leave.

And then, at the last, a flash of blue, landing on the railing…it’s him, it’s him! No, wait! Both! I have never seen them together before.

Rain never interferes with the mail and this is surely addressed to me as much as an envelope bearing my handwritten name.

A gift of love, my blue Valentine.

One day I will be poised just right to get a photo of MY birds, which look exactly like this. Eastern bluebirds are known to begin nesting in February. Let us hope…

Update: The Phrontistery definition: “valentine – of birds, to sing to a mate.”

If you are so inclined, here’s a little poem written on the occasion of the first sighting last week: First bluebird.

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Photos:
Vintage postcard. Kaarina Dillabough. CC BY-SA
Eastern Bluebird. 611catbirds, too. CC BY

First bluebird

Today
when I rose
it was
not dark

Windows backlit
winter-pale, eggshell
embryonic
but light

Still cold
beyond the blankets
when I open
the blinds


To find
a bluebird
resting on
old deck railing

Plump and poised
for one long minute
his feathers painted
with sky and rust of earth


Little harbinger
on weatherworn wood
-while it is yet winter
spring is yawning

I hold my breath
in shell-light, shivering
as the promise
takes wing, and flies

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A bit of rough-draft offering for Poetry Friday.
Thanks to Jone Rush McCulloch for hosting.

Photo: Bluebird. Rick from Alabama. CC BY.because I couldn’t get to my camera in time. The poem is my snapshot.

A bowl of snow

Deep in the night, it came.

I wake to the sound of it falling.

A faint, feathery swishing against the bedroom windowpanes. A silvery glow at the blinds, beckoning. I crawl out from under the warm covers to peer through.

It’s a different world. Softer. Purer. At peace in its perfect winter-white blanket, illuminated by the full moon. Big flakes descend to the ethereal stirring of wind chimes.

I imagine animals curled in their cozy dark burrows.

In the spirit of affinity, I return to mine.

I waited well into the morning before texting my son: Is she so excited?

His daughter, age five, has been longing for snow. Some winters pass without it here in central North Carolina.

He texted right back: She’s so wound up. We have already been out to play. We made snow cream. Put sprinkles on it and ate it for breakfast.

How awesome is that, I thought. She will remember it all of her life, this snow, getting to eat it for breakfast.

Magical moments. They will be stored away, deep in the hallowed halls of her mind.

I was just rereading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They explore moments we remember and revere the most. Some are tied to great emotion or to shared meaningful experiences. Others transcend “the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary.”

The authors write: “The most precious moments are often the ones that cost the least.” They relate the story of a three-year-old who succumbed to a severe E. coli infection. They describe (brace yourself) her kidney failure, horrible pain, portions of her colon being removed twice, her heart failure and resuscitation; she desperately needed a kidney transplant and a compatible donor could not be found. At Halloween, her costume had to be laid on top of her because of all the tubes. She was still in the hospital as Christmas neared, and it began to snow:

For a child from Vermont, it was cruel, having to watch the snow through the windows. Wendy loved to make snowmen, to go sleigh riding. She hadn’t been outside for two months. Her lead nurse, Cori Fogarty, and and patient care associate Jessica Marsh hatched a plan. If Wendy couldn’t play in the snow, they would bring the snow to her. But it was more complicated than that. Because of Wendy’s heart condition, the staff was monitoring every milliliter of water that she consumed. So Jessica went and filled an emesis bucket with snow, weighed it, let it melt, and poured it into a graduated cylinder. Now they knew how to translate the weight of snow into its volume of water. So they went and filled the bucket with exactly the right amount of snow so that if Wendy ate it all — as three-year-olds are prone to do — she’d be just fine.

Can you see them, bringing the bowl of snow into the hospital room? Can you see that little girl’s expression when she saw it? Jessica Marsh said: “I have never seen such joy and pure innocence on a child’s face.” Wendy’s mother: “It was bliss, it was joy.” Many years later she would write: “It’s easy to forget the monotony of the endless days that stretched together during her recovery. But that one moment of brightness, that is one moment we will never forget.”*

Perhaps that is just the image we need right now, as COVID-19 drags on. A bowl of snow for a child…a bit of magic to escape the moment, maybe to carry us through.

As parents, as teachers, as writers, compassionate human beings, we have this power within us to imagine such moments, to make them happen. The most precious moments are the ones that cost the least…

Just so happens that as I write these words on this new, dark morning, flurries have started falling again.

Let us go and seek our bowl of snow. And where we might share it.

Maybe even for breakfast, with sprinkles.

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*Wendy’s story is from the chapter “Making Moments Matter” in The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017, 263-265). You might like to know that she did receive a transplant and went on to be an athlete.

Thanks to all at Two Writing Teachers for the power of your shared stories. Where there’s writing, there’s a way.

Spiritual Word Journey

As the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, I thought about words.

Particularly the word “weary.” It had seeped into my bones.

And I wondered if maybe, maybe…as much as I love them…I was tired of words.

Tired of the way they are wielded to wound.

Tired of the clamor.

One word with appeal: hibernation. Yes. Give me that word. It is, after all, winter.

I’ve just begun reading the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. Early in the book, May speaks of how plants and animals don’t fight winter. They don’t pretend it’s not happening or carry on living the same as they would in summer: They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight, but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.

It is winter. My country is in a metaphorical winter. A bitter one. Certainly a crucible. What is being forged, I cannot say; the combination of a pandemic, many types of loss, from jobs to loved ones, to food insecurity, to strife and political unrest, seems almost more crucible than can be withstood. It takes its toll. Mentally, physically, emotionally. Withdrawing, at least from social media where vitriol is most rampant and draining, has great appeal. In the name of preservation, if not of one’s sanity, then certainly of one’s spirit.

Vanishing from sight. Alluring.

Makes me think of little bats I read about recently, how they survive the winter by making tiny dens in the snow. Took scientists years to figure out how they survived—only polar bears were known to make snow caves.

Ussurian tube-nosed bat, hibernating in Japan. Photo: Hirofumi Hirakawa. Science Magazine.

I am not a fan of bats, long before COVID-19. But that this tiny creature weighing less than a quarter ounce can endure, knows to endure, such harsh conditions in this way fills me with awe.

And that is the word I am clinging to in 2021.

Not hibernation. Awe.

I didn’t feel like choosing a word as a focus for the year. Remember, I was weary beyond words. Yet when I flipped my planner to January 1, I found this quote: Experiencing awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you, can improve your physical health and make you feel more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

So that is how awe chose me as a guiding word for the year, extracting an unwritten promise from me that I would look for it each day. I started capturing an “awe of the day” in a notebook…for three whole days. Then I started back to remote teaching with sketchy Internet and a plethora of other school-related issues that weighed heavy enough to bring tears, a rare thing for me. All which were obscured today by the long shadow of the U.S. Capitol. Tonight another word from my planner’s awe-quote, altruistic, rises to the surface: having a genuine and selfless concern for others.

Where is it?

Like awe from which it is born, it must be looked for.

When I see it happening, I take heart. I am awed by others who, in the darkest of times, are the light-bearers. The healing-bringers. In these moments I know I am in the presence of something greater than myself.

I also happened to read this quote from Albert S. Rossi in Becoming a Healing Presence:

We need to push “pause” often and avoid reacting to the latest and loudest…The Lord expects us to live a life of love for Him and for others.

We have all the time we need to do all the things God has us here to do, in a peaceful way…We revere time as a way to remain peaceful, no matter what, to please God who gave us time. We have time to be come more of a healing presence during our remaining time on Earth.

We don’t live life. Life lives us.

Those words and that wisdom fill me with awe, like the little bats which know to burrow in the snow. Like the stars, like the ocean that I haven’t seen in eighteen months and am longing to see again, for the healing it offers my soul, for the taste of salt and infinity on its breeze. Like the children at school (on the screen) who are so buoyant. Like my son’s music—I can hear the keyboard upstairs, as I write—and his beautiful voice when he sings. Like his older brother’s way with words and his deepening altruistic nature. Like my daughter-in-law, a gift straight from God to our family, and her artwork in both painting and baking. Awe. Like my granddaughter’s face, lit with joy, every time she comes to see us. She has changed our world.

Just one more reminder that I’m in the presence of something far, far greater than me.

What the world needs now might not be as much love, sweet love, as awe, healing awe.

Did you see the two widowed penguins with their wings around each other in an award-winning photo, touted one of the best of 2020? Animals know. Let us humans likewise be a healing presence to one another, moving forward.

Two penguins look into the distance in Melbourne

Tobias Baumgaertner. Ocean Photography Awards. BBC News

Here’s to claiming your awe. Or letting it claim you.

Just little more of mine:

Unicorn cake my daughter-in-law made for my granddaughter’s birthday…
unicorns, by the way, are a symbol of healing.

My granddaughter’s portrait, painted by her mom, as a Christmas gift to my husband and me.

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With much gratitude to my Spiritual Journey Thursday group. You all are another source of awe. Special thanks to Carol Varsalona for hosting at Beyond Literacy Link. Per Carol’s suggestion, I am including a link to a prayer-poem here that I wrote earlier, tying “awe” (note the beginning letters in the title) to being a vessel of the Spirit: Alight with Expectancy.

Last blast

I watch the pouring snows/ The last of winter’s throes . . . 03/12/2018

First the stillness

portending

the silence

descending.

The last of winter this way comes.

The first flakes

wending,

waxing larger,

distending.

She surges, clings, suppresses, numbs.

As we endure,

transcending,

her spirit

commending,

   Spring, over throes, a requiem hums.