The Thing With Feathers
Where has the summer gone?? Egad!
Just yesterday, back in May, when the lilacs were blooming and a spring breeze blew in through my window, I let myself sink into the luxury of it all, only to wake up one morning and find it is July-pushing-toward August, and the lilacs are long gone, as are the rhododendron and the honey locusts and the roses. Even the blackberries have raced from blossom to berry to briar, and those cool breezes have been stilled by some invisible hand, hot air settling into my little holler, compressing light and sound so that if feels as if we are all inside a dim bubble.
Since I don’t have air conditioning, my ceiling and window fans have been running pretty much nonstop, the earlier music of peepers and wood thrush replaced by a constant, vibrating, metallic hum.
Tito and Beasley spend a lot of these summer days lying on their sides on the cool wood of the front porch, eyes half-shut, and Kitty Witty lolls in deep grass, chittering at the birds in her weird little talky-voice. You might think it’s too hot for her to hunt, but you’d be wrong. About every other night, late, she approaches the house, howling and the dogs and I have to come downstairs and make over her while she parades back and forth, purring and glancing proudly at the mouse or mole or shrew she’s deposited at the front door, Tito fighting to get past me so he can scoop it up.
Me, I sit and write. Every day, dropping into chapter after chapter, revisiting, revising, and rewriting. These past months I’ve been digging way deep into grief and trauma, and it’s an understatement to say it’s been exhausting. After a writing session, I just want to go lie down and sleep, and sometimes I do, sometimes I know that’s what I need.
But also I’ve pushed myself to be intentional about decompressing in more productive ways, like taking walks, eating healthier food, hanging out with friends to enjoy summer fun – concerts in the park, hikes, backyard parties. Every evening I sit on my front porch and sip a glass of the home-brewed kombucha that has replaced my wine habit.
Over the winter I’d done two things that helped me keep the “bête noir” of seasonal depression at bay: 1) I faithfully fed the birds and 2) I filled my rooms with green, living things.
I’m glad to report the living things are still living, now on my front porch, and I’ve added enormous clay pots full of tomatoes and herbs so that I walk out my front door to a pleasing wall of green. The racoons are stealing my tomatoes as quickly as they mature; I’m trying to keep my fury about that tamped down. The herbs are thick and green and luscious – I’ve made dilled garlic scape pickles
and basil pesto
and marjoram-oregano-thyme infused olive oil, and I snip fresh chives over my morning eggs.
And even though food is plentiful all around for them, I am still feeding the birds, because now we are so habituated to each other that we are very nearly friends, and I would miss them terribly if they left. The wrens and chickadees and titmice hardly care that I am seated so close. They hop from the feeder to forage for seeds they've scattered on the floor, giving me bored side-eye as they peck and peck.
There have been robins and towhees, blue jays and bluebirds, sparrows, and mourning doves. I’ve seen juncos, goldfinches, handsome strutting crows, an enormous pileated woodpecker that uttered a pterodactyl-like squawk when it spotted me, and even a couple indigo buntings that hung around for several days, startling me with their electric blue plumage each time they emerged from inside the thick green forsythia bush and lit on the feeder.
I have to admit, though, I am partial to the cardinals, and I love looking out to see what the pair that nested in my side yard, a fiery-red male and a female the color of warm ash, are up to.
Just the other day I noticed Papa with another cardinal of mottled color that followed him from branch to branch, emitting these screechy little calls that seemed to translate into, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” I took out my binoculars to get a closer look and realized it was a scruffy male juvenile, bright red beak but not yet fully-grown into its flaming scarlet glory. Those little screeches were, “Dad! Dad! Dad!” and I watched as Papa patiently tried to show Jr. how to use the feeder while Jr. kept trailing after Papa, insisting on being fed, and Papa complied while also trying to nudge Jr. toward the feeder.
In that moment I felt such heart-melting tenderness at the scene playing out before me, and at Papa’s trust in bringing his little guy to my front porch. I watched the two of them for the longest time. It was the perfect antidote to a morning’s work that had left me weary and sad. “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie,” they called out to each other. “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie!”
Viktor Frankl said, “What is to give light must endure burning.”
To tell the story of how I came to be here – on my front porch, on the other side of my Chasing Light journey, past the wall of despair, beyond deep darkness, accepting uncertainty, and at peace with letting love have the last word – it has meant revisiting scorching sorrow, burning grief, and smoldering doubt, but it also means remembering to breathe ever so gently on the wee, faint ember I've learned to carry with me, whispering over it until it flares up again. Until birds the color of fire, of ocean, of clean, speckled earth and yellow sunlight flock to where they are fed.
As does hope. The thing with feathers. That perches in the soul.