Tuesday, April 28, 2020

a moment in the day: bird

When I step downstairs to get a glass of water, I hear, out through the open back door, a bird singing in the trees. Its song is sharp and clear.

Twee-twee... twip-twip-twip... sweeeeee.

Each time it sings, the song is different. Sometimes little buzzy sounds at the edges of things, sometimes a long, lilting whistle at the end.

Barooo-twip, twee-twee... bip-bip-bip-bip sweeeeee.

It's unlike any bird sound I recognize. I go to the door, stand in my bare feet, try to find the bird hiding among the leaves in the high branches that frame the yard. I used to fancy myself a birder, but I could never find them no matter how hard I looked. My brain tries to bend this moment into a fantasy, something like those fake stories of the dolphins cavorting in the canals of Venice because humans aren't there to push them away. You hear a lot of stories like that right now, that this pandemic is giving nature a little breather while we're forced into hiding. I want to think some of those stories are true. Animals going where they usually don't go. Things growing. The air sweeter. It only stands to reason. And wouldn't it be lovely if something good happened for this earth, at least for a little while.

It could be true. Some of it could be true.

I've never heard a bird like this in my yard before.

Bip-bip-bareee-twip, beewee-beewee... bip-bip-bip-bip swareeeeee.

Off to the side, through the open door to the studio, Stephen is painting in a shaft of electric light, listening to a podcast about ancient history. The announcer explains that the Aztecs were "hemmed in." That this once proud empire had nowhere left to turn.

"The men," he says, "were forced to make their last stand."


I can't find the bird. I turn to go back inside as the podcaster continues musing on how civilizations crumble and fall.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

a moment in the day: morning

Five-twentyish in the morning, dark Portland streets, I'm driving to work. The streets are lonely this time of the day when most of the city is home asleep, sheltering in place. I pull up to a stop light and turn my head so I can look at the Christmas lights making a little blinky rainbow across a house's front porch. They're icicle lights but the kind that look like they're dripping, like the icicles are melting color down into the shadows. I watch them until the traffic light turns green.

Most years, I like the holiday lights to go away, come the first weeks in January, afraid that if they linger too long, they'll ruin the Christmas magic for me the next time around. But these days, these lonely morning drives, I look for them everywhere I go. I've plotted my route according to where I see the most twinkle lights. The rare sightings here and there on porches going up Stark Street. The white and gold lights studding Ringler's on Burnside. The white lights along shops running all the way down Northwest 23rd.

On the radio, they're talking to two New York City bus drivers who've lost colleagues, who are afraid of taking the virus home to their families.

I'm crying again and I don't want to have red eyes showing above my mask when I go in to work.

I signal, make a turn, keep driving, look for lights.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

a moment in the day: birthday

Sunday afternoon, sitting at my laptop working on an image for a book cover. Out through the little window in the dormer of my used-to-be-an-attic room, muffled, quiet, comes the sound of singing.

Haaaa-ppy birrrrrrth-day toooo youuuu..

I get up from my desk and duck my head into the dormer's little alcove, crawl around the bulk of my freestanding air conditioner, crouch at the window. A big white van is parked across the street. Behind it, at the curb, mostly obscured by the van, is the family that lives in the house, a mom, a dad, and two small, blond children. I can't see the smallest, but I'm sure he's there. The older one, a girl with a bouncy mop of yellow curls, wears a white dress and carries, together in one arm, a red blanket and some sort of stuffed animal.

The van window closest to me is open and a hand hangs out, holding onto a string. Up above floats a big, almost-cube-shaped mylar Happy Birthday balloon.

"Oh!" The mom runs into the house and comes back with a small plastic container with what look like two cupcakes with white frosting. She bends down, lost behind the van, as she hands the cupcakes to her children.

Drive-by birthday parties in the new normal.

The balloon flashes in the sun. As the parents stand at a safe distance from the van and chat through the windows, the little girl with her cupcake and her stuffed animal, her red blanket trailing like a cape, runs happy birthday circles around and around the yard.

Friday, April 17, 2020

a moment in the day: peek

Six AM. The workday is beginning. In the warehouse, masks on, standing apart from each other, we wait to find out who will be working which tasks today to get the books out to our customers.

I'm standing just inside an aisle made of tall cases whose shelves are full, up and down, with books, a coffee mug or two, a puzzle, a rolled-up t-shirt. Small slips of paper sticking up from each item. Now one of the managers comes walking across the warehouse floor, maybe to announce our assignments, and I want to step out of my aisle to see her better, but someone might be standing just beyond the edge.

I do a little tilt forward and look to one side to check if the coast is clear.

At the exact moment, peeking out from the next aisle over, is a mirror of me. His eyes right into mine as my eyes go right into his, both of us leaning out in the same slant. The same little surprised peeky look on his face that I feel on mine.

Above the mask, his eyes smile. We laugh. We straighten back up into our own aisles again.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

a moment in the day: easter walk

A walk in the neighborhood, basically the only thing I do beyond the bounds of my yard anymore. How strange it's going to be next week when I go back out in the world to work.

Eleven o'clock blue sky. Purple irises and tangerine-colored California poppies are Easter eggs I find as I go. Nicholas sniffs, then keeps walking, sniffs, then keeps walking.

We pass the parking lot of the church, empty, and I realize that it's been a long time since I've heard the church bells that always used to ring at 10:20 on Sundays.

The other thing that occurs to me is that I'm sharing this experience with the whole world. Not necessarily empty churches and bells that don't ring but the reason for them. Wars are experienced across large swaths of the earth. Natural disasters. Something like 9-11 could be broadcast across millions of television sets, but this... event, this virus and everything that goes with it, the fact that it has changed so much of the way we're living... coronavirus is the most universally-experienced "moment" of my lifetime.

Weird to be so connected while we're so separated.

I turn the corner, scan the sidewalk for anyone approaching, and keep walking.

Duck under a small tree whose branches shoot out just over my head. They're bare except for tiny buds here and there. Mostly yellow-green with a hint of pink at the top edge.

I reach my finger out, ready to touch one.

Pull my hand back.

Keep walking.

Friday, April 10, 2020

a moment in the day: waking up

It's just before six in the morning. Feels weird to wake up so early, an hour later than I used to wake up before this whole virus/layoff thing began. Lately I've been sleeping in until eight, sometimes later than Stephen, soaking it up.

Pale light through the gauzy window curtains. I ease my way out through the shush of bed sheets. Bare feet on the floor. Reach under the covers quietly toward a sleeping dog who may wake up later and find a place at the edge of the couch to pee on if I don't take him now.

Stephen stirs, makes an awareness sound.

Then, "Oh," he murmurs. "Sorry."

He thinks he's been snoring and I'm going to sleep upstairs.

"No," I whisper, "I'm just getting used to waking up early again."

Next week, I go back to work.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

a moment in the day: crow

I'm weeding at the edge of the sidewalk, pulling the little sprouts and dropping them in my bucket. Periodically stopping to consult the pictures on my phone that I snapped with Stephen's instruction. A picture with a thumbs-down means that's a weed. A picture with a thumbs-up means leave it alone. You'd think I'd stop having to ask him all the time, but that would mean you don't know me very well.

I pull another, drop it in the bucket.

Down the sidewalk come a family, mother, father, toddler, so I grab up my bucket, my discarded sunglasses, my diggy thing, and move away. I skirt around the car to the side of the house where industrious volunteer shoots of euphorbia are growing in a crack at the base of the wall. I hunker down to wait for the family to safely pass.

It's changing my brain, I'm sure of it. After this time passes how long will it take before the sight of another person approaching doesn't automatically send up warning signals?

A crow flaps down and lands on the wire overhead. She turns her head and her beak blinks white in the sun.

Corvid, I think at her, you have no idea.

From around the front of the house comes the toddler's voice. "Bye-bye, doggie."

He must be looking through the window to where Nicholas is camped out on the back of the couch, waiting for me. I wait a little while longer, pulling up the renegade euphorbia sprouts. It's a beautiful, perfect, blue-sky day. I wonder if the air tastes sweeter, cleaner to the crow.

When I figure it's safe, I get up from the driveway and step out from behind the car to the front of the house only to see the little boy standing there on the sidewalk. Little scooter, bicycle helmet, he's still staring through the window at Nicholas. Beautiful, perfect, blue-sky innocence on his face. And then his mom calls to him from down the block and he runs to catch up.

The crow on the wire is gone. I take my bucket back to the edge of the sidewalk, sit down. Start back into pulling life up out of the ground.