simple reflections

So they are born, with eyes opening, under mother's wing.

The red-winged blackbird calls out from the feeder. A shrill conk-la-ree. Calls for millet and sunflower seed.

I oblige him.

And if not for his sake, then for the two parents darting back and forth from post to shrub to ground to pine and back again. There's the wind and the hatchlings' cries and the songbirds and the otherwise stillness of it all.

Sunbathing dogs in a state of repose. Nothing interrupts their state. Nothing will now except for the occasional yelp from the neighbor-hound or the zigzagging swoop of cardinals. They've tasted bird before, and I will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening to these newborns. I hand the dogs three-day old drop biscuits and they melt back into the shade.

Today is bearded iris, yellow and blue, and spiderwort in blue and pink glass. Today is two-wheels and self-confidence and the up-and-down the asphalt because you have this assuredness, a no-helping-me-today-thank-you-very-much assuredness. Today I will go with card and vase, with explanation and hidden fatigue, leaving before saying much at all. I will say these are for you, from me, and be gone.

Today is coming and going quietly before me.

From the blue hammock we tell stories. I speak of the here and the now and of a girl that is you, a girl with your name, your likeness, your blue-gray eyes, or, rather, our eyes, our likeness. But you tell a story that is fantasy, of ghosts and witches and monsters, a story that crescendos with the very wind as if nature were to say this is foreshadowing.

This is our vantage point, an area of sensory exploration: the smell of gasoline mixed with wild onion, the mother-bird's chirrups at the barberry, the dance of green leaf above. We close our eyes and ask what do you hear? There are no easy answers. Opening our eyes we see sunlight and branch between the blue folds.

Our hands are still soiled from the work, but the Romas, the petunias, and the Cherokee Purple, though wilted from shock, are in the ground. You may never recall these solitary moments where our nails were dirty and our clothes were stained by grass. But there will be nothing more precious for me than being in this synchronous sway as the helicopter seeds fall to the ground.

The alarm clock follows blue light and the ritual begins. It is morning, and the scroll follows coffee which follows commute which follows updates which follows podcast which follows work which follows conversation which follows lunch which follows updates which follows commute which follows home which follows scroll which follows detachment which follows unconsciousness. Rinse and repeat.

It is a doom scenario, a zero-sum game: the enticement to know, to always know, to never not know. Isn't it exciting? The interconnectivity, the stimuli, the algorithmic outrage, the fervor, the responses, the fervor to the responses, the quips, the memes, the inane, the threats of violence: it is a flavorful soup.

Cal Newport says to abandon it. Become more productive. Retire by 40. It's smart capitalism.

Jaron Lanier says to abandon it. It's a societal ill. Your mind will thank you.

In the meantime, children of the Silicon Valley magnates play and learn with a disdain for it like the Amish while I watch the ones, the ones I teach, glued to it like addicts.

As the techno-libertarian, hailed as both savior and demon, espouses free speech for fifty billion, will he too gaze in wonder at the marvels of the scroll?

Soon there will be three, and that, in and of itself, is beauteous nature. The father and the mother fly to and fro in anticipation of the hatchlings. The barberry, which was here before me, houses new life and new potentiality, perhaps as it always has from time immemorial. Before the cardinals arrived, there were the early inhabitants: the grubs, the mockingbirds, the bumblebees, the very hands that placed the shrubbery in the ground, the hands of my grandfather, the hands of my Nanny. I no longer view this place as birth or death as much as it has become the pleasant continuum.

So I spread seed again, black seed from sunflowers, and I watch Nash carry a bone in his mouth, and I think and I write and I exist in the very room where my Pa died and my Nanny wept, and I step outside again to see the three, speckled promises.

I ask myself, “What will become of them that has not already been?” But then my daughter rushes in, calling me by name, just to say hello.


I knew you before the flutter and song but now you are gone from me


Flashes of red and brown dance around the post as seed falls to the earth


The peppermint grows in an unkempt flowerbed welcoming surprise


I peer behind as I drive just to see you sleep Blink and you are gone


Here is April snow And all at once the unfamiliar A Towhee in the grass


They peer from the trees black beads furtively searching chirping disappointment


In the barberry so begins their nesting with pine needles


I want to stand here with the moon hidden behind electrical wire and treetop moving towards clearest shine


As black seeds drop behind me the open view I know their names now

“Crazy Sunshine” is a song that evokes these past feelings of self-isolation and quarantine. When I hear it, I sort of float ephemerally back to that space, my small corner with nothing in it but an old CRT television and a bed. I see myself there in that room hearing the diagnosis for the first time. Sobbing, guitar riffs, Covid-19, and disquiet accompany assorted vitamins, antihistamines, and fever-reducers. Before long, there's an acceptance followed by the general malaise with any and all illnesses.

Thereafter, the slow deterioration of taste begins. Food, at first, becomes bland before the hints of metal and burning set in. Then, at last, there's nothingness. My palette once diverse is nonselective. Coffee, the habitual morning practice, is all but devoid of its pleasure. Doorways are closed off, meals are delivered, books are read, and time passes until the day arrives when I hear that she, my daughter, now has it too. The exhaustion sets in, beyond the breaking-point, and I emerge from solitude. Social distancing has become an obsolete measure as we are all now infected or likely to be. Coughing and sneezing, we climb into bed as if it were a private skiff sailing towards our own colony.

Yet, as the song played today, it's almost as if those memories are dissolving or, at the very least, making their way for something new. As we approached the chorus, I looked back at my daughter to see her hold two fingers towards her face in the classic, peace-sign gesture. Then she smiled. I taught her how to do that, and it's probably a good enough memory to hold on to for today.

The cardinal's handiwork doesn't go unnoticed. Though, with the impending storms, their efforts may have to be redoubled. The pair often lands on the fence post when I walk outdoors, chirruping to one another about my presence. I often wonder how much I disturb their attempts to construct a little future. Though, I suppose it isn't just my being they have to contend with. It's a dangerous proposition to go nesting around canines.

Wednesday is here and that means a change in the weather. At this point, it's ritualistic. I walk to the road and gather the trash can when my border collie spots movement in the field ahead: a young rabbit. Without hesitation, he bounds towards the dancing, white tail. I instinctively yell out, but I know it won't do any good. This is a game of Hare and Hounds. I call out again, but he's just an animal.

Nothing comes of the chase, and he strolls back with tongue wagging. All that's left is the indolent repose of porch-sitting, or, better yet, porch-laying.

Before the daylight left, the sky was two dark shades built upon one another. Now it's the waiting game of thunder rumblings and rain sheets and lightning strikes. Some call it tornado season.

There's a slight reprieve from the cascading rain. Dappled sunlight momentarily cuts through the foliage before retreating back again. In these moments, a mother-cardinal begins her nesting in the barberry. The sun touches her orange beak before she darts inside the shrub with dried needles, going from pine to bush to pine again. She is diligent in her work. I watch her as my own young sleeps in the backseat. There are the soft tunes of some obscure song: “Winter” by Shin Otowa. I know when I wake her, open the door, this moment will be gone. It will be the shock of awakening, the flight of birds, the scream of child, the bark of dogs.

My efforts with the sunflower seed were not in vain, and I see my old familiar friend the towhee. Others, the mockingbirds and finches, approach this new feed with timidity. It is a pleasant surprise. When I am lost in these occasions, in the ever-present, it is with the utmost gratitude that I can say, “Yes, I am alive.”

Today felt like the verge of sickness. 30 degrees one day, 80 degrees the next. It was rain then snow then sun. Flowering and frost: my head was going to combust. But then, the sun came out, and it was the perfect day.

I was washing dishes when I stopped and stared at the cardinal from the window. It was only for a few minutes, but things settled, my mind was calm, and I breathed in. There wasn’t the concern of activity, nor the concerns of the future. No legacy, no adulation, no deeds to complete, only absolute stillness with the running, soapy water. Later in the day I refilled the feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. I’m sure the cardinal and the others will visit again. Perhaps the Towhee will come along, eager to crack the hard shells.

So much of my time is spent in the preoccupation of thought or industry or planning for the future. In all actuality, and I know this to be true, there isn’t anything but the eternal-moment, the ever-present, the all-being-now. Intellectually, I’m aware of this, but I cannot grasp the meaning of these days any more than I can hold the wind in the cusp of my hands.

I’m writing incessantly now, though I’m not entirely sure why or for whom.

I listen to an obscure album by Shin Otowa called わすれがたみ (I think it translates to “momento”) as I pick up trash from the road. There are aluminum shards from a beer can that are stuck in the tufts of grass, spreading into the road. It’s my fault; I was on the mower, and I was impatient. But “Red Bird” takes me where I need to go.

My daughter comes to me and asks me to follow her. Her tiny fingers grasp my hand, leading me down the hall to her play room. When we get there she tells me, “It’s time to clean your mess, so get rid of all these things.” I will always oblige.

It was the perfect day.

I write this at speed while listening to the song “Basic Bath” by Mazzo (found here). It’s not necessary for you to hear it, but it’ll make your life better. Trust me. I’ve not slept well and am beyond coherence, so bear with me. I hope my cassette deck holds up so I can maintain the bounce.

My poor, sick child wants a peanut butter and jelly. As a parent, the scoop of peanut butter and strawberry jam is synonymous with duty. This is some karmic retribution: I always wanted my pieces cut diagonally in perfect triangles. She wants her two separate slices, spread apart, not touching, eaten one-at-a-time. Such is her way. I cannot object.

Outside, my peppermint plant has sprouted from its slumber. I always pluck at it, then chew a sprig as I pass. It died in the winter, was reborn, and comes again. It will do this beyond me. As I eat the herb, I am connected to the flowerbed constructed by the hands of my grandfather. That was over fifty years ago, and this is Zen.

Speaking of the path, how did I get here? Well, it was the minimalist movement. Yes, I read Goodbye, Things and am well-versed in the “KonMari Method.” Be warned though, while good lessons are to be found in the approach, minimalism only touches the surface of fulfillment. Meditate, walk, read, think, breathe, live: that’s better. Lastly, be wary of the charlatans of “digital minimalism” or “digital detoxes.” Of course, minimize your dependence on technology, but never do something for the sake of increasing “productivity.” Never.

Perhaps it wasn’t strictly minimalism. I owe a lot to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Epictetus. Also, who could forget the Tao Te Ching with which I would have never known the beauty of effortless action: wu wei. But, naturally, it goes beyond ancient tomes. Are we not what we consume? It seems lately (the past two years) I am interested in the slice of life genre and the absurd: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, Sound of the Sky, Girls’ Last Tour, March Comes In like a Lion, Kaiba, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, Lu over the Wall, etc. This preoccupation with the mundane, especially the mundane as a vehicle of healing, counters the ruination and disillusionment of this place. Mother Earth, forgive us for we have forsaken thee.

So now, as I read koans and write sloppily and create things, I realize that it is here, the now, that I can do the most good. Forgive me, my daughter is calling, and I’m sure the track is over.

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