Essays: Wings and Air

Leaves from our red oak appliqué the lawn. The fall-blooming plants have lost their flowers, save for two azaleas. Butterflies and moths have been visiting the azaleas since the butterfly bushes started dying back. Above, I see woodpeckers from time to time. They dance up and down the trunks of our sweet gums. I’ve seen a slate-colored junco on two occasions. Both times, he was sneaking over the fence to take a dip in one of our birdbaths.

We have three birdbaths. Before we moved to this house, I never paid attention to birds, at least not close attention. The birdbaths came with the home, a gift of sorts from the previous owner. The birds who visit our yard regularly were also a gift. Shortly after moving here, I decided it was time to do something about my long-held desire to identify the birds I saw. I got my wish when I was given a set of bird flashcards and a pair of binoculars. The View-Master effect of the binoculars made the whole world pop to life. I couldn’t believe such wonder existed right outside my door. I’ve spent countless hours not only watching birds but also examining trees, the sky, squirrels, the texture of all manner of surfaces, the shrubs at the back of the property that lean into each other like old friends, and so on.

One of my favorite birds is the junco. I remember them from when we lived here years ago, before we moved away (and subsequently moved back). They frequented the yard at our first house. I remember that time fondly. My trauma was about half what it is now, though those earlier traumas were closer to me, more deeply imprinted, less smoothed by time, effort and consideration. Now, the most recent traumas are the jagged ones. They jar me from sleep at night and intrude on my waking hours.

I’ve been fighting for a long time, for myself and for others. For the most part, I feel unheard and unseen. I am frustrated by the lack of literacy around trauma, oppression, discrimination, and other issues that profoundly affect people’s health and well-being. I am frustrated that neurotypicality is imposed on all levels and that social constructs are mistaken for truths.

The birds help. Immensely. They don’t give me answers, and that’s the whole point of paying attention to them. They allow me to stay on a little island called here and now, unaffected by what’s happened in my past and unburdened by the extremely difficult work of being heard above the din of prevailing beliefs and values.

In these small slices of time, there is nothing wrong, nothing at all. The world is wings and air, and I am part of it.

Twitter: Ordinary Birds

I am fascinated by ordinary birds.

All afternoon, two downy woodpeckers danced up and down the sweet gum tree.

Sprinklers have dressed the trees in dark skirts.

Jealousy: when the red-bellied woodpecker is in my neighbor’s yard, not mine.

Killdeers alight between two partially constructed mansions. For now, this land is still theirs.

Like the blind raccoon, I am afraid of wind, high grass, birds, and snow.

As I turned toward it, the light seemed to be a solid.

A squirrel and I startle one another.

I’ll watch the birds you ignore.

An American kestrel sits alone on a power line. It begins to rain.

Symmetry: six mourning doves evenly spaced on a neighbor’s cable line.

Dirt is my personal stylist.

Grebes float on the man-made lake as the sky drifts into night.

We all have to love something. Why not the cecropia moth?

Overhead, birds break like pool balls.

Poor vision turns fall leaves into cardinals.

Above, the turkey vulture looks like a scalloped black slip.

Twitter: Sewage Creek

I came home to a downy woodpecker, a chipmunk, and a baby bunny. They were all in the yard together.

Walking leaf, you don’t look like the trees in these parts.

Praying mantis, I see you’ve come to my window again tonight.

I was offered a gondola ride on sewage creek. I said no.

Weeds teach me about the wind.

Daylily, how many fragile ribs guard your seeds?

Fall: Leaves flutter in our sentences.

Rain has turned the sweetgum bark tobacco brown.

My friend is standing in a field painting animals.

That perfect time in the garden when everything is dying but nothing is dead.

Lawn moths are the angels of this abandoned prayer labyrinth.

At the old golf course, two kestrels hunt for grasshoppers.

October: The old crabapple’s leaves are dipped in red wine.

Little blue heron, the lake has made a shimmering replica of you.

Night: We move toads off the road so they won’t get run over.

Beneath the harvest moon, the syncopated call of a great horned owl.

In their appliquéd ballgowns, late-blooming azaleas wait for suitors who never arrive.