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As the shadows lengthen this afternoon I sit with my father in the yard. Since he’s been robbed of most of his memory, he has developed an adoration for trees. Each time we sit here, he takes up his cane and points to the huge pine trees that stand like obelisks, dwarfing my parents’ home. He directs the tip of the cane to the trees in the back yard, then twists in his yellow lawn chair and points over the roof top to the trees in front. “If you look all the way up,” he says, “you can see they almost touch the sky.” Wonder and reverence coat his voice.

Now he rests his head against the back of the chair, peaceful. It’s not always the case. There are times when his mind skips over the present and the past, and he insists this house, home to my parents for over forty years, isn’t where he lives. Then he is frantic and angry, determined to leave.

As the sun makes a show of dappled prints on the green of the yard, and the white of the house, I wonder what will happen. My father, unknowing of the diagnosis my mother received yesterday, may soon be forced to leave these trees, to be contained in a building with other people who are confused about the past and the present. For now, he watches for birds to come to the feeder and marvels at the millions and millions of leaves on that tree. “That one over there,” he says, “to the right, way in the back of the yard. It’s most unusual.”


Pardon me, please. There are times for subtlety, refinement, grace. Today is not one of those. It’s a day for flinging and flying, spaghetti on the wall, paint in your hair, boots tracking mud inside the house. Today is the day when red and yellow dance right up to each other and say, Go for it. You, girl, can do anything, anything at all.

You know how it is when you’re falling in love: every new thing you discover about your beloved is cause for excitement, a sigh, a swoon. The object of my most recent affections is a small patch of ground in the rural South. First it was the grand oak trees that attracted my attention. Then I faltered. Discovering more about this new love interest, I backed off. You’ve got issues, I said. I’m not sure I can make a commitment to you. Over time, however, the sloping grounds, the potential for all manner of beauty, lured me in. In March I paid for the property.

Love deepens as I meet members of the plant and animal kingdoms. Are the birds more beautiful here? More spectacular in their flight, their coloring? What about the red cockaded woodpecker that perched on that tree the other day? The way it turned its head side to side, alert to its surroundings, wasn’t that fascinating?

Falling in love is a little like being under the influence. Silly with sentimentality and superstitions, dopey and dreamy like a child just up from a nap.

Several weeks ago, I startled this lizard, which took refuge under a pile of brush I’d stacked. I’d never seen one like it before. Oh, my, and this too! Perhaps it’s something rare, a reptilian gem I’ve been given to adore. When I visit the land now to work on the home I’m renovating, I look for the scaly critter. Today, here it is. It sees me approach, moves up the tree and sits still for my camera. Not until I come home and see the results do I spy the patches and sprinkles of turquoise blue on its throat and belly. I sigh. I swoon. Ain’t love grand?

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Despair came in yesterday and swallowed me whole. Right when you think things are flowing and dancing, a relationship can trip over itself, both feet tangled in vines and roots that lurk underground. Head and hands are swept up like a kite in the world of dreams and the swirly unconscious. It can tear a body in two.

A door got slammed. Tears fell from tired eyes. Words spilled from angry jaws. Where did that stuff come from? I thought it was gathered and bagged and tossed in the trash years ago. And now here it is, a rash that never went away, a pain that’s as fresh as a daisy.

Today I remember that, just as despair arrives in surprise, so do love and peace and joy. Two weeks ago the peace lily, a neglected resident in my home for several years, presented this perfect white-edged oval. Poorly tended by me, the lily had never managed to unfurl itself, put on a show. Yet there it was, nourished by roots underground, plucky enough to grab hold of a kite and pull itself up.

And so it is. This life is a dance of despair, a trip of finding the roots, pulling on kites, a surprise of love and peace and joy.

I wonder some times whether the heavy boots of my thoughts and words, the hard muscle of my fears and the toothy edges of my ambitions are a counter-balance, a reluctant partner to something lighter and looser in me. There’s a thing in me with no name and no roots that hangs and swings this way and that in the breeze. Without these tough boots, my muscles and grit, I wonder if I might just take flight, pull myself up and over the limbs of this life and become nothing more than a whisper, a song of wings.

What, I wonder, is the sound of that song? What might it be like to become partners with the wind, to become everything that whispers my name?

The bell peppers in the bin at the roadside fruit and vegetable stand are past their prime, their skin wrinkled and soft. “How much are they?” I ask.

“I give you four, no, five, for just one dollar,” the man says. His brown, weathered hand grasps two green ones and drops them into the plastic bag. I reach for a red one, and he says, “Oh, you like the red ones?” He seems surprised, smiles, and grabs two more, both with generous amounts of red flesh.

I am home, chopping the sweet red flesh, tossing the cubes into my iron skillet along with onions and garlic, olive oil and fresh oregano. I drain the noodles and toss everything together. I sit and read and eat. And, then, a singular piece of tender red pepper presents itself on my tongue. Sweet. Red. Full of life. For a moment, it’s like falling in love.

Somewhere in the heart of the world, there is but one prayer. In the vast universe, a single song that all the world can sing.

It’s time to tell the rest of the story about the feisty little cardinal that couldn’t fly like his nest-mates. In March, as he hopped along the ground, he was attacked by my dog—twice, but still managed to show his gumption. No doubt about it, he was a fighter. As soon as I clasped my hands around his wings and body—to rescue him from further harm by my pooch—his head turned and he seized what was within reach—my index finger. He didn’t release his formidable grip until I walked inside the house and found a basket to put him in.

With a towel draped across the basket, I drove him to a veterinary office that handles injured wildlife. That same evening he was taken to a wildlife sanctuary and rehabilitation center. The days passed. It took me a while to summon the courage to call the center to inquire as to his recovery. Surely he made it, I thought. He was such a fighter. And I couldn’t see any obvious signs of wounding. But I really hate to bother those people at the center. I know they’re crazy this time of year tending to young wildlife. Maybe I should drive on over there. Oh, heck, that would be an even bigger bother than a phone call.

On the eleventh day I called. “Oh, yes,” the woman said, after I’d given her my name, “here’s the record. He just died this morning.”

“Oh, no!” I said. “Are you sure?”

“Let me check.” She put me on hold and came back. “Yes, ma’m, I’m sorry, but he didn’t make it. They had him on an antibiotic. But he was gone this morning.”

I’ve thought a lot about that fledgling. I’ve felt responsible for his demise since it was my dog that did the damage. But where do I go with that?

So, here is what I have done: I take particular pleasure in every cardinal that I see. A few days ago, as I sat on my deck, the one pictured above alighted on the limb of the pecan tree and hung out for a while. Yesterday I cherished the sight of a spectacularly red adult cardinal zinging through the boughs of the trees. And always, I have the memory, imprinted on my finger, of the grip, the powerful determination of that little red-feathered fighter.

(Scroll down to “Red-feathered Fighter” to see the previous post on this bird.)

In the blink of an eye she moved. The camera, held by a novice in a darkened theatre, does the best it can do. It captures five of her selves, as she performs her part. A blast of light and energy, she is a startling beauty, so full of passion and potential she steals my breath.

In the blink of an eye she has grown from a dream in her mother’s womb to this: a being with many dimensions, far more than five selves. And so it is for us all. Life moves us by storm and occasional lullabies and we do what we can, honing the facets of this me and that me into something that resembles a whole.

This granddaughter of mine is a piece of fine work, an artist and writer, actor and dancer, scholar and musician. Her polished exterior is never too fixed to conceal a child with a tender heart. Life asks so much of us sometimes, but still we stand, still we adjust. Still we blink and move on.

Dobie sits in the truck while I work on my land. I take him out for periodic walks and sips of water, as he’s made it clear he prefers the confinement of the truck to the indignity of being tied, being tethered nearby as I work.

This aversion to the tether is something we share. In fact, it may be I’m a little hung-up on this idea of becoming unbound. I see in my writings, over and over, this yearning for freedom, a taste of the wild. What is it, exactly, I long for? If I’m always involved in the search, head sniffing the ground, would I even know when it appeared?

The other day, as I cleared vines and small, bushy growth from around the dilapidated old house on my new parcel of land, I wondered whether my thoughts, themselves, are the tether. A Buddhist or devoted meditator would say it’s so. That the mind makes a trap and only when it can be emptied of thought can one know what is true, feel what is real.

When it came time to set down my loping shears and take a rest from my clipping and snipping and collecting of old limbs and logs, I took Dobie out of the truck. Surely, I thought, he’d rather sit with me and feel this breeze than be stuck in the truck. I tied a piece of laundry line around a tree and then onto his collar. I propped up my feet on the table and sipped on a drink. Eventually Dobie quieted and sat under my chair. Oh, isn’t this great, I thought. He’ll get accustomed to this.

When I felt the urge to resume my slow-as-a-turtle’s form of bush hogging, I looked down at the pooch. Quietly, without whine or growl or tugging on the tether, the boy had simply done what needed to be done: he’d chewed, with his powerful teeth, through the line. And he had no idea he was free, that he could have run off to sniff at the dead armadillo he’d found earlier or follow the scent of a deer.

It’s several days later and he’s still wearing his two-pronged cotton pendant, a reminder to me how quickly, how easily, without fanfare, I can chew through the illusions that bind me, how freedom is there, all the time, within my breath, within my reach.

Ellen Hamilton