West Virginia Morning: Saturday

The house is quiet and I have not yet had my morning coffee. Through the bay window I am watching a male goldfinch feast on my fading purple coneflowers. He is so intent on plucking seeds from their dark, round eyes that he does not even notice when I draw near. Were it not for the glass I could reach out to touch him, stroke his golden beauty with my fingertips.

The dew is thick on the grass this morning, the air cool with a whisper of fall. At first light, I watered all my thirsty pots and my raised beds. By the end of it all, I too was soaked through. Back inside, I finished preparation for a no-knead rosemary garlic bread to pop in the oven later. It is rising in the window. Then I clipped some lavender and rosemary and twisted their woody stems together, curious. They are in water on the table, filling the kitchen with their spicy aromas.

I am still not used to the boys being gone. I try to be gentle with myself—it hasn’t yet been a week since Ted went back to school, not quite two since Jeffrey began his freshman year. We are officially empty-nesters, at least for a time. I still have summers to look forward to, and holidays. Time alone with my husband is sweet and we will settle into this. But I keep expecting them to come through the doors late at night or emerge on the steps with tousled hair early in the morning. This is a mother’s way of seeing, I suppose.

Yesterday, I picked my largest crop of pole beans and plucked enough jalapenos for a pint of pickling. My garden has been such a mess this year. I was overambitious with the tomatoes and they have choked the peppers. The tomatoes have been happy, and I have had a tomato sandwich for lunch every day in August; but my poblanos have not given up one piece of fruit. I’ve tried to make a sun-path for them, clipping out bits of roma and Earlygirl, but it is late and they may not give this year. Snails have been devouring the green beans and the Mexican bean beetle has made ghosts of the leaves on my squash and cucumber vines. Yesterday, as I picked beans, I noticed a vine had jumped the bed and latched on to my lilac bush nearby. One curving strand climbed all the way to the top and a cluster of beautiful beans dangled there, taunting me from ten feet above. Maybe the squirrels will find them? Or perhaps a bird. I was still able to pick enough for eight pints of canning, but none were so beautiful as that cluster on top of the lilac bush.

There is much to apply my heart to around here. Busy hands are the best medicine for the tiny ache inside but these quiet moments by the window also heal. I lift my hand and touch the glass with my fingers, as if—for the wanting— I could grasp his wildness through the pane. But at this one tiny movement from me he is gone, a streak of golden light winging through the cool air of morning.

West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.

West Virginia Morning: Hope Emissary

Fridays are the emissaries of hope. And I had so much hope for this day.

We pick Ted up tomorrow for his spring break and so my plan for this day was to tidy the house, give him a cozy welcome, do the mom thing. I washed his bedclothes, tucked in the grace of fresh sheets. I picked up his space and vacuumed away the dust of his absence. I was doing okay, ticking items off the list, until I went outside to empty the vacuum canister. We have a bagless and when the canister is full, I like to walk to the edge of the yard to empty the dirt of our lives into the meadow. It makes me happy to think of a bluebird nest knit together from the lint of our carpet fibers, a sparrow chick nestled into strands of my hair. Bits of our life and skin and dust passed on in love. Ashes to ashes.

When I have things to do, it’s dangerous for me to go outside. From my place by the fence where I stood tapping the vacuum canister against the post, trying to loosen stubborn bits of fuzz and life debris, I had a clear view of the walnut tree that was taken down by the windstorm day-before-yesterday. That old beauty splintered right down the middle and dropped his right fork into my neighbor’s yard.

I couldn’t help myself. I set the canister down on my raised bed and moved closer.

A small cupboard, cracked open—a secret hiding place for squirrel or woodpecker or other forest spirit was given me. Scent of dried wood wafting, long inner striations exposed, rough bark cracked and frayed—his years laid bare. Yet, he still rustled briskly up above. How many times have we given that tree up for dead when it surprised yet again with fruit in season? In the wounding, I could see the long struggle for the years. The inner parts were dry and brittle in places, smoothed to a shiny sheen in others. Still, the remainder of the row of trees stood on, oblivious to their brother’s demise. Could they be? I know it’s impossible. I know how trees speak to one another, how they share much more than the sunshine that falls over their leaf-hats.

I ran my hand along the splintered skin. I felt the sadness all tree-lovers feel when such a shelter is struck down. I whispered thanks to the tree for all it has given and wondered aloud to God at the brilliance of such a thing as a tree. I remembered Belden Lane’s petition to include trees in the Communio Sanctorum, the communion of the faithful, and I understand. As I took my leave, the sky let loose with the frailest of snowflakes—love confetti for our brother tree.

I grabbed the vacuum canister and headed back to work.

West Virginia Morning: Witness

This morning the sky is the bluest blue and the trees dress early. I look out the bathroom window as I brush my teeth. I’m on the second floor, peering over the back yard, far into the meadow behind our house. From this bird’s eye view I see the maple is taking on her early leaf flocking, a soft magenta down where buds begin to unfold. And the pussy willow dons a cottony ragtop where the sun first touches her in the morning. All the fruit trees that hide in the meadow most seasons are beginning their conspicuous bloom. I run the brush through my hair and scramble downstairs, grab the camera and go out to stand under the earth’s awakening.

The coming of spring is nothing short of a miracle most years, but when spring arrives in mid-February? This is cause for celebration. I lose myself for a time in the slow-opening of a crocus, the way a branch offers a promise—prophesies.

I try not to think about the possibility of a late-season freeze. Isn’t this hope? Giving myself fully to this moment? Annie Dillard says, “ … beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I am there. I am here. For just this moment, I will witness the miracle of spring.

West Virginia Morning: Early Bloomer

yellow crocus

This morning, as I walked Bonnie around the house, I saw a little piece of the sun had fallen down to earth. It’s late February, and my crocuses are blooming—bright yellow petals winking in the morning dew. We’ve had an unusually warm patch of weather these past few weeks, but I’ve lived here long enough not to be fooled. The birds, however, appear to be falling for nature’s trickery. Everywhere I turn the sky is full of robin-song and sparrow-music. Yesterday I peeked in my bluebird box and, sure enough, the beginnings of a nest were tucked inside. When Jeff and I walked down Sleepy Hollow road, we saw an American Kestrel falcon perched on the powerlines. As we drew near, that beauty took flight, circling slowly over the meadow that hugged the roadway. She was so free in her flight, she took my breath.

On my days off, I’ve been working on some upcoming projects, writing curriculum for a couple classes I hope to teach and researching resources. Today, I re-read most of Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. At the end of chapter 2, under the practice section, the author encourages the reader to buy a journal and keep it with them. “It’s never too late to start,” she says. “Don’t try to catch up by going back in your life. Start with now.”

Something about those last three words made my throat catch a little. “Start with now.” It sounds so simple, I mean, where else can I start except now? But so many days I feel like I’m trying and trying and trying … struggling to make up for all that I’ve missed—all the regret that comes with the late blooming. And then I see an early-blooming crocus and the round-headed silhouette of a falcon and I know deep inside of me: now is the only moment we really have.

Instead of feeling regret, tonight I let that thought comfort me. Tonight, I let myself be fully present in this moment and as I do, I can feel the wings of my heart stretch wide.

Wide for the soaring flight.