"We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house." ~Annie Dillard
I drive like a grandma through the back roads of West County, and even slower at twilight, that magical silver hour when birds and animals clock out of the day shift, and the nocturnal patrol comes on duty. These pot-holed roads go right through their homes, such human rudeness, and it's the least polite thing I can do, to drive at a snail's pace. For the most part, other drivers are understanding, going under the speed limit themselves. But I have seen the fury and apathy of others, like the truck that gunned it when it saw a hen stray from her companions on the side of the road. She tumbled up and under the carriage, spit out on the other end, bloody, crumpled and suffering. I cradled her broken body, knocking on her owner's door, the bearer of bad news.
The flicker was already gone when we spotted her, lying on her back in the middle of the road, feet in the air. There was blood at the corner of her mouth, but she was otherwise whole, as if she was bucking bird tradition and taking a nap, reclined. I brought her over to the side of the truck to show my daughter. She searched my eyes, wondering whether to be sad or curious. With my soft smile as reassurance, we both took in the amazing beauty, never before so close. She has polka dots on her chest my daughter whispered. Yes, I say and look at the orange when you fan out her wing.
The next day I run with scissors during my morning exercise. At first I can't find her in the tall grass where I placed her final rest. I am relieved, hoping that she became a meal for a hungry mouth. But then I do see her, as still and pristine as the day before. My heart breathes her in once more, the air sharpens, and then I clip one feather from her wing.
Some mornings the fog moves through like miniscule sideways rain. I feel accompanied on my run, with air made a visible presence, bringing news from far away. After four weeks, I am finally able to run the entirety of my 1.5 mile loop, and I am celebratory in new found health and strength. My feet slow at our dirt driveway, the long walk with open fields on my left too good to speed through. One day, the fog has gathered to create magic. At first I stand confused, wondering just what it is I'm seeing. I run to the house and call to the children, who dash out in their pajamas and stand in awe.
The next day I bring my camera just in case. My intuition is rewarded. Two older women who are also morning walkers have taken a detour down our drive and are watching the display in shared stillness. We exchange exclamations I've never seen this before, It happened yesterday but I was up on that hill, Can you email us the photos, that's my house over there, at the end of the arc.
Back at home the kids try to come up with names. Hazebow. Fog Bubble. Pastel Rainbow. They wonder if there's still a pot of gold at the end and think I should ask one of the old ladies if she found any treasure.
At night I sit curled on our one comfortable chair, staying up too late reading frightening news. I've decided to become better educated on the specifics of Climate Change, able to understand the entire spectrum of possible impacts, perhaps better equipped to come up with a prioritized list of What To Focus On. I'm googling terrestrial carbon sequestration and whether Methane or Carbon should be given the title of Enemy Number One. The Arctic Methane Emergency Group thinks things are dire, that we have a number of months to respond. They want to implement geoengineering, creating reflective haze over the arctic to slow melting. I think of our fog bubble.
Outside, during the two hours that I am stuck in this ecoanxiety hole, I hear the screechy call of a barn owl. It keeps getting closer, until I am sure it must be right out the front door. I close the iPad, slip on shoes, open the door. The wind is shaking the poplar leaves, nature's baby rattle. The owl calls again and then makes a tremendous crashing noise in the tallest tree. Was it the sudden end of a hunt, pouncing on it's prey, perhaps a rat who made an ill-timed trip to the compost pile below? Moments after the crash, I see the owl's ghostly shape take flight, swooping low directly in front of me, and then instantly gone. I invite my anxiety to do the same.
The next two days are sizzling. Mornings are clear and in the 90s before I've finished my coffee. J returns from shaving in the bathroom and announces There's a grey fluffball show outside the window. Bushtits, tiny peeping birds that resemble dusky cottonballs, have been enjoying our sycamore tree, and the tips of dry grasses at the side of the house. This particular morning there is a lot of bird activity, and something is going on over by the sunflowers. Clinging upside down and pulling out seeds on the small red heirlooms is a bird I don't recognize. It looks like a finch, but with rosy wingbands, a golden back, a gray head. I spend ages perusing local id sources and then do a broader search. Turns out, it's a gray-capped rosy finch, and according to migration maps, it shouldn't be here. I'm not that surprised. New is now normal. We are in a drought, food is scarce, time to branch out. But what I want to know is, how did it find my sunflowers, when it's new to the area, when there's never been a garden here before?
The hot days have us searching for shade. My daughter and I decide to go to Santa Rosa to ride the carousel at Howarth Park. She's already buckled in the truck when I realize I don't have my keys. I run back to the house and am bemused when the only open window is the tiny one in the bathroom, three feet above my head. I try multiple precarious climbing structures until I finally find a small ladder. Scratched and dusty from the tall grasses, I swing my legs over the sill and am triumphant as I jump off the sink with a thump. I grab my keys and go back into the bathroom to close the window and am stopped short. There, in the middle of the floor, right where I leapt down, is a giant, dull green praying mantis. I understand that she'd hitched a ride, probably on my back, as I was clambering around in the grass. I crouch down to say hello and notice that she is missing a hand. I am horrified in wondering if it was my clumsiness that may have caused her injury. As if in answer, she cleans her other intact hand, then sweeps her antennae, and looks back at me, clearly not bothered by an old wound. I hold a glass in front of her saying Climb in sweetheart and I'll give you a lift back outside. She nimbly climbs on and clings to the lip. I find a weed that matches her color, and let her blend back in.
Back at the truck, my daughter and I wonder, Is she still a praying mantis if she can't clasp both hands in prayer?
Days tumble one over another, my daughter starts kindergarten, autumn elbows her way in, practically shoving summer into the dust. It's another morning and I'm running again, spry despite my occasionally heavy heart. I run along the razor edge of the road, the razor edge of the moment, grateful for each passing truck that moves to the other lane, even if they don't return my wave. I wonder what good I can really do, for this world I love so much, only being one voice, one heart amongst billions. Who do I think I am anyway, my inner critic likes to ask, given my own track record of mistakes. Wounded healer, that's who, I answer back to the mist, now silent. I watch brewer's blackbirds, in town for the harvest, making braille on the telephone wires. I have a favorite gnarled old oak tree in a field, next to a pond, and the blackbirds fly to and fro, now shadows on the tree, now notes on the wires. Back and forth. Something falls in a spiral from the sky, like a bay leaf, and it is right in my trajectory. It reaches eye height in front of me and I recognize it for what it is. A blackbird feather. It lands at my feet and I pick it up. I hold it up to the light, the diffused hazy light, and witness another marvel.
Blackbirds have stripes. Hidden stripes that you can only see when the light shines through the dark.