Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July

July 5, 2011

Hi Andrea,

Twenty one days and nights have passed since my last letter.  It is not that I have forgotten about you.  I just have not been able to write.  Life has been busy with Steve graduating, him moving back to his house in Issaquah, work, gardening, watching the birds come and go from my backyard.  Adjusting to never ending change.

This weekend Steve and I decided to take a road trip.  I have a week off work.  Destination, Noxon, Montana--where his sister, her husband and their dog Olivia live.  I was nervous about meeting Jana and Ken.  I knew I’d get along fine with the dog.  I generally always get along with dogs. 

The last letter I wrote you took everything out of me.  Erin has commented and I have nothing to say back, except to say she chose to adopt Jasmine as a young woman.  Jasmine has a lot of problems.  I do not want to be part of any of it.  Erin has made many choices I have sat back and abided by.  After all, a mother’s love is unconditional, is it not?  But as unconditional as love may be, there came a time I had to make my own choice.  I cannot accept things as they are with Erin, but I cannot change them.  I have to preserve myself—what little there is left of me.  This choice has not been an easy one.  She is my daughter, after all.  But I will not engage with her this time.  Enough of that, though.    

Ken and Jana live 50 miles from anywhere in any direction.  They share their land with cougars, elk, wolves, deer, bear, birds, chipmunks, ground squirrels and moose.  Shortly after we arrived, a doe came chasing after their dog, Olivia.

“The doe is nervous,” Jana leans in and tells me.  “She has a fawn and she is protecting it.”

I watch the doe as she stands outside the French doors.  Her big ears moving, settling in on every sound.  The ravens cawing in the distance.

Steve asks Ken, “What is all that racket?”

“Ravens” Ken answers.  When they find a fawn or a calf they make that noise when they are getting ready to attack it.”

“They kill deer?”  I ask.

“Fawns and calves.” He answers. 

“We live in the midst of nature here.”  Jana explains.  “Nature is not always kind and pretty.”

 It pays to be reminded of this.  To have this verbalized.  Mother nature.  Mother.  I am a mother, like her. 

The doe stands there for several minutes.  She turns and walks away, past the fenced vegetable garden.  Past the greenhouse.  She disappears.

In the morning, I wait to see her again with her fawn.  I sit on the front porch with Steve, Ken and Jana.  While they visit, I get the binoculars and Jana’s bird guides.  There is a feeder full of seed and various species of birds.  A chipmunk and a ground squirrel are enjoying the buffet.  I recognize pine siskins from my backyard.  There are cowbirds dark and ordinary.  I note them in my bird log book, just the same.   

Identifying birds is harder than you might think.  Even with two bird guides and over two hundred years of experience shared between us four adults. 

“What is that one?”  I am excited.  I interrupt the conversation like a small child demanding everyone’s immediate attention. 

Jana looks up.  The men continue their conversation.

The bird is black and yellow.  “It has a distinctive black mask and a bright yellow head.”  I say to Jana.

“And a short beak, built for cracking seeds.”  She adds.

It leaves as quickly as it came.

I want to call it back, study it until I can identify it.  Jana and I look through the Peterson’s and National Geographic bird guides.  We pass them back and forth. 

I think it looks like it might be a grosbeak.  But I cannot find any pictures that match exactly.  Jana and I get up and go to the kitchen.  We are after coffee.  It is 11:30 and we are still in our pajamas. No one is in a hurry to do anything.  The air is warm.  Wild daisies, hawkweed, Indian paintbrush, orange honeysuckle, wild grasses make an elegant bouquet between the small yard and the tree screened creek.  It is the Fourth of July.  A holiday for all of us.  I am with Steve and he is with me.  We are at his sister’s house.  I am meeting her for the first time.

“I was hoping we would get to meet you last summer.”  Jana says.

“Steve and I were still new.”  I told her.  “I am glad that you and I are getting to know one another now.”  Jana is just a few years younger than me.  Steve is her big brother.  

“I am glad my brother met you.”  She tells me.  “I was worried about him.  After his wife died, a part of him died too.  He seems at peace now.  Happy.” 

I tell Jana about you.  I tell her that you died. 

“Steve told me.”  She says. 

I try to say something.  There is nothing that can be said about Steve’s and my combined losses except Steve and I are of great comfort to one another.  I tell Jana this. 

The doe returns to the yard.  She stands watching the men on the porch.  Jana and I return to the bench.  I pick up the binoculars and study the doe’s face, her eyes.  She is watching, listening.  Her fawn is not with her. 

“I am worried.”  Jana says.  “I think something may have gotten it.” 

Putting the binoculars down, I pick up my cup of coffee.  Jana and I sit quietly.  The men still are visiting.  If I wanted to know what they were talking about, I could tune in and listen.  But I am content just listening to the voices of two good men and sitting quietly watching birds with a woman I am connecting with in a place that knows no words.  She, too is a survivor.  We have both been redefined by losses, but they do not always define us.

This morning, as I stood out on the porch with coffee, the doe came again.  Her fawn was not with her.  She would never leave it.  The fawn would never leave her.  The fawn is dead.  It is time for me to accept her loss, even though I still cannot accept mine.  As she looks at me with round brown eyes, giant ears moving to collect every sound around her, I wonder what consoles her.  Or even is she can be consoled. 

Somehow, the chipmunk has found his way up the pole and to the cylindrical bird feeder.  He is hanging upside down, eating seeds.  I laugh at his acrobatics.  A hummingbird buzzes me. 

Being aware of life, of these moments.  Gratitude for simple blessings that come my way.  This is what sees me through these days now.  Paying close attention to everything around me, keeps my focus away from myself.

Seeing a grosbeak, hearing birdsongs and bird calls, smelling the coolness of this morning—the hawkweed, honeysuckle, wild daisies—this is what consoles me.

Life is full of choices.  Some harder than others to make.  I choose those things that move me forward.  Even if that means sometimes I have to move away. 

A belated 4th of July to you.