I was hanging out the laundry some years back, and a dragonfly perched on a clothespin inches from my shoulder. Without thought, I reached up and lightly touched its wing. Then it flew off, circled back, and came to rest on the same clothespin. This time, I provided a more determined stroke, exerting enough pressure to see the wing move downward. Again the creature lifted off, only to return. We repeated this waltz, one beat, two beats, three, until my friend called it a day.

Since then, I take notice of these winged ones—my visitors from the fairy realm. Some allow me to stroke their wings, and others, like the one pictured above, seem to prefer to simply…commune. They  will allow me to come within inches of their faces and will remain in one place for many minutes at a time. This one hovered and perched near me for close to half an hour as I fiddled in the garden last year.

What a wondrous thing, to reach out, without thought, and discover something gentle, something like magic.


Two months ago I looked at the sky through the branches of the crape myrtle tree in front of my house. Bare and slick, they were still home to some of last summer’s seeds.

Just now, a stiff breeze is blowing. I watch the leafed-out branches of the crape myrtle hopping, jiggling, swaying outside my window. When a strong current tussles the green boughs, the trunks move back and forth, like a mother’s hips as she moves her baby from one side to the other.

With spring full-on, the seeds are gone or obscured by new growth. And I am yearning for a sturdy April breeze to blow through my branches. They’re cluttered with matter from other seasons. A familiar hurt here. A long-standing sickness there. A wound is still pestering that limb.

It’s the breath of compassion, the salve of the gods, to which I call out. I pray to make room for new thoughts, new growth, shift this baby in me so she can grow strong in her trunk, and let her leafy branches dance with the currents in the sky.

Late in January the robins swooped in and lifted the veil of winter, even as the frost still stepped on the brown grass and the skies were smeared with charcoal. On a chilly day in early March, the sky sang one brilliant blue note all day long and the wild cherry tree wore petals and perfume. The robins, still visiting in droves, attached themselves for minutes at a time to the cherry limbs and gave me time to wonder what they saw and smelled. How different was their world from mine?

Something worn and raw in me looked up, wanting something I couldn’t define. Now, I stare at the image captured by my hungry camera and eye my unrest. It’d be too easy to say I’d like to know what it’s like to fly. It’s not the flying I crave. It’s the courage to reach inside myself and find my bird-mind, the self in me that knows, instinctually, where to go, what to do. No this-ing and that-ing. No if-ing and what-if-ing. Just taking in, like breath, moving on, like breath, making life.

It wasn’t until after I’d taken this photo of the wild cherry tree in my yard two weeks ago that I noticed the splotch of red in the lower left side of the picture. Since then I’ve seen an abundance of flashing red feathers. A family of cardinals has been busily engaged in flying lessons, with apparent success. When I step out my back door, there is a flurry of activity, as the winged gang moves from the ground to safer harbor in the branches of trees.

However, two days ago, when I grabbed the hose and began to water some potted plants, I noticed, hopping on the ground, a young cardinal that either hadn’t had enough training to know to flee from me, hadn’t gotten properly acquainted with all of his flight gear, or had some faulty apparatus.

Twenty-five feet away from us was a large threat: my seventy-pound dog. I called Dobie into the house and hoped, with a little time, my red-feathered friend would get some make-up flying lessons.

Two hours later I’d forgotten about the little critter and went outside to do a chore. Shortly, I heard Dobie barking, then looked up, horrified, to see a little red object erratically jumping about under a gardenia bush, Dobie crouched inches away. In the next several seconds, Dobie got the bird into his mouth, dropped it, grabbed it again, and ran. All the while, the feisty fellow was putting up a howl.

My feet moved fast and my howl was louder than his. Dobie dropped the bird again, was confused by my vocal display, and allowed me to collar him. I got him into the house, called the local vet who takes in injured wildlife, changed my clothes, and looked for a container for the bird. When I finally got back outside, the bird was gone.

Good, I thought, he wasn’t badly injured and was tough enough to get away. Has he learned yet how to fly?

Yesterday morning I scanned the yard for signs of the slow learner. Darn. There he was again, hopping around the base of a tree. I brought the dog inside as soon as he was finished with his business. Over the next couple of hours I kept watch, only to have it confirmed that, despite the efforts of an avian parent or sibling (I couldn’t tell which), to rouse the little guy into flight (by swooping, wings-a-flapping, in front of him, as if to say, “Do it like this, Leadfeathers!”), he continued to use his landing gear, hopping, hopping, hopping.

I left the house for several hours, the dog locked inside. I met a friend for a picnic lunch and told him my dog and bird story. We had just finished a meal of baked chicken, furnished by yours truly. My friend argued that, in saving the bird, I was not only depriving my dog of doing something (hunting) that came naturally to him, I was, hypocrite of hypocrites (he wasn’t quite that harsh), disavowing the carnivore in me, not taking responsibility for the demise of the chicken I had just eaten. And, besides, if the cardinal cannot fly, he cannot survive. We live in a world of the hunter and the hunted.

He made a good point: I’m no different from my dog. We agreed that we humans are separated from our food sources. When I purchase a chicken that comes to me wrapped in plastic, I don’t compare it to the one in my yard wrapped in red feathers.

These conflicts are worthy of focus and contemplation. However, ife, in all of her feathered and plastic-wrapped glory, is full of contradiction, some of it resistant to logic, no matter how magnificently crafted. Passion and folly more often rule human behavior—to our detriment and betterment, I am sure.

When I got home last evening I again scanned the yard for evidence of the cardinal. I let the dog loose and, within a matter of minutes, I saw the little bird hopping across an expanse of green, no tree trunk close by. Dobie quickly spotted the flashing target, bounded after it, and backed the squawking bird into the lower branches of the same gardenia bush where the fight had begun the day before.

In a heartbeat I was there, watching Dobie grab at the bird and release it as it fluttered and fought. I got between the two, scooped up the cardinal as he scuttled into a mass of weeds at my fence line, and looked at Dobie. Out of his mouth hung a long red feather. Onto my finger, the little bird, furious at his situation and not ready to relinquish the fight, had latched. Not with his feet, but with his beak.

All the way into the house, he held his grip, finally releasing as I set him into the bottom of a wicker wastebasket. I put in a jar lid filled with water, which he decided made a better perch than drinking receptacle, and quieted as I covered the basket with a hand towel.

Off to the vet went Dobie, the red-feathered fighter, and I. Some stories have a life of their own, logic be damned. What remains for me is the memory of that beak, locked onto my index finger. That feisty creature was doing his thing, fighting for his life, and, somehow, so was I. Dobie is doing just fine.

Musicians have always been a breed apart. While I’ve sung in choruses and choirs and learned a song or two on the piano, music was something other people mastered, tasted on their tongues, knew in the swirls of their DNA.

I had a boyfriend some years ago who loved music, jazz especially. If he’d had his druthers as a college student he’d have majored in music and become a professional musician. But his father insisted he be practical, so he majored in math and became a teacher. By the time I knew him, he’d abandoned the rules and impositions of the classroom, taken up carpentry, and relished the weekends when he filled in as a jazz DJ on a local radio station.

While jazz is not my cup of musical tea, I did envy the pure joy and passion he found in music. I wanted that eyes-closed, head-tilted-back look of bliss that some singers, musicians, and music lovers get when they ride the invisible rivers of sound and wave. But I was bound, soul laced tight, by my beliefs that I didn’t—really—have music in me. Finally, my own life called me out, desire grabbing me by the shirt, dragging me past the edge of safety and comfort provided by those stories.

Last year I stepped, barefoot, into the river, and took up the guitar.

Each week when I appear in Gordon’s loft for lessons, I am awkward, tottering on spindly legs of ineptitude, toes searching for a steady rock, my now calloused fingers still stumbling over the strings. But, every now and then, my friends, I can close my eyes, and, for a moment, say yes to the music. Here I am. Show me the way.

If you don’t count the ticks that hitchhiked home with me, I had a wonderful time in the woods yesterday. I have stepped back into the stream of my dream to have a small parcel of land on which to have a garden, talk to the moon at night, and nurture my creative endeavors. I handed over a check and signed on the dotted line last week so will begin now the process of land clearing, having a well dug, and putting a minimalist roof over my head.

This particular parcel has both called and cautioned me. It was the old oak trees that beckoned me from the road, swishing their fans and feathers of Spanish moss, daring me to step into something grand. And it was the old house, abandoned for too long, that warned me that it will not always be easy. It will be a marriage of sorts, for better or worse.

Yesterday I stepped onto the land for the first time as its rightful steward. When I pulled the chain on my stalwart little mower, setting out to blaze a trail through the woods, my entire body grinned with delight. The work, the challenge, the dream. They’ll take me where I need to go.

I am taking pictures in my yard. The redbud in my neighbor’s yard looks so delicious I want to taste it, and the young dogwood in mine is teasing me with its buds. In the backyard, the wild cherry tree, over thirty feet high, is awash with blooms, like frosting in the sky. A breeze whispers and tiny white petals fly on sugary wings to the ground. It’s a day when it is impossible not to believe in fairies.

Today I had hoped to finish several projects, to muscle my way through the day. Only some of that work was accomplished. What mattered most happened in a speck of time and can’t be measured with a ruler.

This afternoon I spread myself too thin—working on a small carpentry project, making a squash and onion casserole, painting a door jam, making blueberry muffins, preparing to wash the back deck, and rearranging the stacks of paperwork on my dining room table. Having my mind on too much at once, I bumped into something on my kitchen counter that bumped into a plastic tub piled high with vegetable scraps for my compost.

The tub took a dive and, onto some of my painting supplies, carpentry tools, and the floor went slivers from the squash, skins from the onion, red apple peelings from breakfast, innards from the green peppers I put on my pizza last night, and avacado skin from the guacamole I’d made the day before.

For a moment, I started to rise up, to let fly a curse word or two. Quick tempered, accustomed to storming and stewing, I stopped. As if a tiny cog in the machinery of my madness had broken. I managed to be still in my mind and quiet in my body, picking up the scraps before the dog discovered the mess.

It was a tiny cog of unknown dimensions, its absence cause for quiet jubilation.

We celebrate what we can.

Alleluia. These stars of yellow greeted me this morning as I stepped into the front yard. Spoon-shaped spikes just two weeks ago, the crazy girls have exploded, bringing their quiet revolution into this world of magic and madness.

The newspaper spins stories that break my heart and mess with my mind. National Public Radio bristles with brilliant voices addressing problems too perilous to ignore, too complex to grasp. People are marching in Egypt and Illinois and Libya, full of rage and hope.

As we humans stumble over each other, trying to make sense of this world, knocking elbows, butting heads to find our place, these common daffodils, thank Goodness, just tend to their business.

They gather themselves from bulb and root and earth and stand in the air, no matter how cold, trumpeting their scent, laying bare their beauty. They remind me, with their mellow moxie, that beauty, mayhem, magic and madness share common ground. It’s all about seeing and sensing beyond the surface and always, always singing alleluia.

“Sweetie,” she says, “you relax, now. Okay?” She pats me on the leg and walks out of the room. I close my eyes in the soft light, needles protruding from my forehead, my right ear, and in the lines that run along the lower margins of my cheeks from my nose to my lips.

I’ve had a lifelong aversion to needles, but I decided to try acupuncture several years ago and have come to rely on my Chinese healer. She knows that I value her wisdom, her Eastern way of seeing and sensing. What she may not know is that my child’s heart needs her soft touch, her nurturing presence, and her positive regard for me. While her needles pierce the meridians and facilitate the flowing of chi, the kindness she offers is like a bloom, strong from the sun, right from the rain, delicate and vital to life.

Ellen Hamilton