07 December 2013

Winter Birds

The land has taken on the drab colors of winter -- grey and brown and white -- so it's impossible not to notice them when they're in the vicinity. Brilliant bursts of red against the ashen background of winter trees. And it's impossible not to feel some excitement at every noticing. The color startles. Something unabashed and unapologetic about such boldness of hue.

All the more exciting to see two or five or 20 of them, a crowding cloud of cardinals, in the wooded areas to the front and rear of the house for the last several days. "Bustling" is a way to describe their activity:  flying then perching, flying then perching, twittering feathers and swiveling heads while perched, then brief hunt-and-peck missions on the ground-- only a few seconds and purposefully before making quick winged sprints back to bush or fence post. Scarlet flight:  sound in motion. Do cardinals ever sing? They have been quiet the last few days as I stood on the porch smoking but that could be due to my presence. Maybe they sing when I'm away....

No two birds seem to belong together more than the male and female cardinal. They are "birds of a feather" though her pale coloring is a somber echo of his screeching scarlet. They are companions -- so alike in form. In the uncomplicated contrast of their coloring they seem to complete each other.

[Note:  Just went out for a cigarette break and to scatter the crumbs of the last loaf I baked around the yard and on the ground beneath the trees across the street. The cardinals and other winter birds gathered....and I heard the cardinals sing.]

I woke up early today, the pain and distress of missing my son too great to allow sleep. While the coffee pot gurgled, I stood at the front door and watched industrious squirrels harvest and bury the last of the pecans. Cardinals and wrens and chickadees and other birds whose names I don't know scrambled around the bread crumbs. Others in the winged community paced or perched or pecked about on the porch and in the yard, in the bushes and trees on both sides of the street. So much activity!

The cardinals' color expressed my feeling: the bright red a picture of the intensity of my psychic pain, the muted tones of the female a visual representation of the steadfast loneliness I feel.

I think of Sojourner Truth. My identification with her is embedded in every page of this blog. She, too, was a dark-skinned, outspoken woman whose presence and manner frequently provoked antipathy in others. She, too, was regularly counseled to sit down, back off, stop saying what she was saying, stop doing what she was doing. She, too, spent most of her adult life longing for "a room of her own."

And she, too, had a son she loved who was finally lost to her.

I am discovering that there is no escape, no salve, no comfort. All the reasoning and prayer and alcohol in the world is ineffectual, provides no relief. This mother's heart is bound intimately, inextricably and forever to her child. The longing for him is an experience of bearing the unbearable, as though each breath I take might be my last.

My mother and I were estranged for the last 20 years of her life. Poring through her photograph albums last week in FL, snapshots and newspaper clippings of me as a child and a teenager, items she collected before the permanent estrangement kicked in, I wondered:  did she ever look at these things again after she closed her heart to me?  If so, was it painful?

I pondered the contradiction of her refusal to see me or speak to me while preserving a baby book with a lock of my hair preserved in a wax-paper envelope. What did it mean? What does it mean?

A Facebook friend, a woman I've never met, lost her teenage son. He went missing and she later learned he was dead. Her heart aches. Her life aches. We, her virtual community, witness some of the surges of agony. I consider that her pain must be greater than mine -- my son is still alive and I know where he is. I cannot fathom how she stands it.

The ground is frozen. Two days ago, the rain fell steadily for most of the day. That night the temperature began to fall while thunder and lightning enlivened the night. Yesterday temperatures plummeted and anything still wet from the downpour was gradually encased in ice. Today I gaze on a scene of devastating beauty: the gardenia, azalea and forsythia bushes are flattened or nearly so, their branches sheathed in ice. Vines and
grasses, twigs and leaves on the ground wear beards of hoarfrost. Icicles drape the branches of every tree, forming a bright crystal canopy overhead. The great pecan tree on the front lawn whines and groans as it bears the weight of winter.

I gather stray twigs from around the yard and toss them onto a heap of leaves raked to the curb weeks ago (where are those city maintenance teams?). The frozen sprigs make a crisp, crackling sound as they hit the icy pile. Moments later, winter birds flock to the mound, alert to some edible life beneath the surface. They peck and chirp and quarrel. They know something I don't know; they perceive sustenance that is invisible to me. 

I am scratching here, click-click-clicking the keys, clawing my way to break the frozen surface of my grief, to find the warm space of compost underneath, where the promise of Spring -- companion, shadow, echo to the bright red pain of Winter -- sleeps now as larvae and seed.