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Birding with a two-year-old in San Francisco

Melissa Fischer, Artist


I scan the ochre-colored sandy path closely as Paul and I walk beside the canal, he sometimes riding, sometimes pushing his tricycle. I'm intrigued by the houseboats lining the canal. Who lives in them? What are their lives like? I've been fascinated with houseboats ever since having a childhood friend who had lived for a time on a houseboat. The path is lined with pines and other trees I can't identify– the flora here in California is so different from that of the Northeast. There are birds, many species new to me, in these trees, and I have binoculars in my pocket.

The binoculars remain in my pocket, though, and I barely glance at the birds, much as I am drawn to them. I continue to closely watch the path ahead, making sure my active grandson doesn't step in the wrong place anywhere along the path. There's actually surprisingly little dog waste given the tremendous number and fascinating variety of dogs to be seen anywhere one goes around here– from tiny Chihuahuas to towering Great Danes, from a diminutive nine-week-old Shiba Inu that looks like a bright-eyed teddy bear to two lumbering Newfoundlands who look like real bears. The vast majority of dogs here are social and well-behaved, and I'm guessing that the vast majority of dog owners are considerate and responsible about cleaning up.

Apparently not everyone takes advantage of the conveniently placed poop clean-up bag dispensers and attached garbage cans, though. What I'm most concerned about Paul stepping in is human waste. I know from an earlier walk with Paul that there is some along this path, thankfully covered with a little paper, but obviously something to keep my quicksilver grandson from inadvertently running in. I also want to be sure Paul doesn't jump on the navy blue sleeping bag, unzipped and spread out right beside the path, that I'm pretty sure is sheltering a sleeping person. That would be an unwelcome surprise and rude awakening for the sleeper.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see a movement above me and I look up and see a very small, fairly nondescript, drab-colored bird fly from the pine branches above me as another alights in the same low branches, then immediately disappears! I glance ahead along the path, then tell Paul there's a bird in the tree even though I can't see it. I've been teaching him some basic bird species and he's been quite interested, though he's generally ready to move on pretty quickly. The branches are low and not particularly dense. Where could the bird have gone?

The binoculars still heavy in my pocket, I glance back and forth from Paul to the branches overhead. And then I see it: a beautifully fashioned, perfectly camouflaged, narrow tube-shaped nest with a small opening near the top, hanging from one of the branches, partially obscured by the needles of another branch. It appears to be made of moss, the same color as the surrounding pine needles. I never would have noticed it if I hadn't been alerted by the quick movement of the parent birds.

At that moment Paul spots a rock on the path a little way ahead– round and white with small black speckles, about the size of his fist. Running to it in delight, he picks up the rock, looks at it closely, then adds it to the treasures he's already collected in the compartment on the back of his tricycle, and we continue on our way.

The next day, my last before returning home, I once again take Paul out on his tricycle for a walk along the canal, hoping to look more closely at the hanging moss nest and the birds whose home it is. We don't get any farther than the sleeping bag that's still beside the path, however, because just at that spot, without any warning, Paul's tricycle suddenly collapses and falls apart into three separate pieces! Thankfully he's been walking, not riding the tricycle, so though startled, he's not hurt.

As quickly as I can, which isn't very quick due to my lack of tricycle assembly experience, I reassemble the tricycle, only to have it immediately collapse once more in a heap in the sandy path. All the while Paul is providing shrill two-year-old commentary, and soon the sleeping bag stirs, revealing a sleepy older woman's face. I apologize for disturbing her rest and tell her we'll be on our way as soon as possible. After a short time that seems long, probably to all three of us, I finally get the tricycle precariously assembled and we head home where Nathaniel will do what dads do– repair broken toys.

I never do get back to see the hanging moss nest, but I have a clear enough memory of it and the birds to look them up and identify them as Bushtits– a new species to add to my life list of birds I've identified! I also have memories of a delighted boy holding a round white rock with small black speckles, a tricycle collapsing into pieces on a sandy path beside house boats, and a sleepy older woman patiently watching a baffled young boy trying loudly to grasp what had just happened to his hitherto unquestionably reliable tricycle.

Birding in a city neighborhood with a curious two-year old is nothing like strolling quietly, binoculars in hand, through the dense woods and open fields I'm accustomed to, but it, too, is rich with moments of delight and wonder.

"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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What I have learned so far....

What I have learned so far…

How cows make milk.


How dogs became woman's best friend.


How kids tell the truth more often than lies

(We just have to want to hear it).


How families can survive cold nights and empty stomachs

because they have faith in the goodness of life

and the beauty of each other

(and because their mother's taught them how).


How we can live alone or together and still

need to remember to see the apples and not just the orchards.


How becoming a mother is more fraught with more danger

than being a firefighter trapped in a forest fire

how fathers can find grace in scavenged vegetables.


How sometimes looking backwards is more fun

than looking forward, and other times looking backwards

just gives us another chance to try again

(or lets us imagine breathing sultry songs into the microphone

instead of picking up the dirty clothes or paying the bills).


How someone can discover the universe

by picking up a tiny book, one so small it might not be noticed

by anyone else and then the space it took up on the shelf

suddenly expands into light and voice and air

like the equations of time.


How our histories are made from myth as well as

families arguing at the dinner table or laughing out loud

at Granny's funny accent or Auntie's tales of lost love.


How we need to listen to each other

if we ever hope to survive

so we can recite our tales of wonders and lost lovers

and learn something new,

like I imagine two eagles might do looking out at a sun-filled

reservoir on a chilled December morning,

blessing the day.

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Lilacs Lord







I

After months or even lifetimes of doubting the beneficence

of the existence

of Dominus Benedictus

I rejoice this Sunday

feel smell see His goodness

golden green purple blue.


But today I can't comprehend anything Eternal except

death.


If indeed You are good

spawning spring streaming sun soothing souls

please Lord give me one sprig of lilac

from the pastel paradise of this reborning day.


Give me lilac wine potent

drown me

drop the purple curtain over

life's losses injuries injustices betrayals.


Give me lilacs Lord in a hundred crystal vases.


II

Lilacs Lord don't reek of death

like powered hands and polished fingernails

in a shiny mahogany coffin draped with a hundred roses.


Give me lilacs of life soft messages of life

if You love me if You exist

Dominus Benedictus.


Or is this enenchanted springday soft Mayday no more than

a token message of sympathy?


Promise me God

that this day will be an intimation

of promising flowering grace soon to come

and when I am full-bloomed fruit-filled flowing over,


then lilacs Lord place lilacs Lord

only lilacs on my grave.

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Seeking Balance

Bless me father,
I am 45 years old
And it has been 45 days since my last period…

These are my sins:

I drink too much coffee
I cook dinners sans vegetables for the kids
I worry obsessively
I procrastinate on my bills
I curse
    sometimes in front of my children
I get mad too easy
My house is messy
I am lazy

Oh, and I have a boyfriend whom I delight in

Forgive me God


For all this, God, have you put me into early menopause?

Patience thin
Ready to pounce  
Retreating to my covers, my safe place
With laptop, and vino
whilst my children shoot and kill each other on xbox
leave dirty dishes on counter
Want to see no one
Want to break up with my lover

Self-diagnosis of PMDD in June
Premenstrual Dsyphoric Disorder
Sounds scary
Oh…It is
Gynecologist recommends Prozac
Slightly relieved, but more ashamed
to admit
I can’t handle

July now-
been on this shit for a month
Still no period
And now my hair is falling out
WTF?

Going off the drug

Need my hair- more than I need my sanity
Or at least as much

If I am going to go down, I want to look good on the way

Remember this, friends, when you check me into the psych ward

Remember to outfit me sharply on the day of my admittance

No matter what, it is always important to look good
Mom (Avon Lady from the big hair eighties) would back me up on this

Seriously – calling on woman of infinite wisdom

What would you choose?
Would you give up your hair to be less irritable?
I am guessing that I do not have a single friend who would say yes


What is a fair compromise?

Would you joyfully gain 25 pounds to be a better human being?  
I am way to vain for that
I forgot, God, to confess this  Vanity, surely a grave sin


Would you give up your money for inner peace?
Oh Greed- more ungodliness

Finding a balance between pleasure and pain
Maybe this is why I have the PMDD


Half the month… euphoria
Jokes for my students
Peaceful energy in my chakras
Hugs for my boys
Compassion for myself
Adoration for my boyfriend
Create elaborate plans
Check off tasks on my to-do list
Tackle projects
Sing sweet soulful songs


Ovulation- like an ax, strikes
PMDD is back
I drive too fast
Sleep restlessly on couch
Eat chips for dinner
Hold tension in my neck
Hold grudges
Relive old heart breaks

Feel pain too intensely- mine and my children’s
Grind teeth in my sleep
Yell at the kids
Flip my oldest son the middle finger behind his back
I’m sorry God- I know you can see this.  

So … this – this is the balance I am seeking?
Would really prefer less extremes

Especially now
Unfair I say
45 days no period. This is crap
45 days and still waiting

Started the second half of my life on Saturday
45 years old
Not waiting

Ready

Ready to balance out the second half with the first
Sins and all

Bless me father, I will do my best

Oh and please Lord,
                   
                       let me keep my hair.
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Back to School

Lock the door; don’t let anyone in!
Momma left us alone
to care for ourselves, right
after breakfast. She came back
in the afternoon arms loaded
with bags and boxes.

On the four poster, she laid out
treasures: pink and blue flowered
cotton panties and undershirts,
crisp, swishy petticoats,
red and blue plaid gathered skirts,
pleated skirts, jumpers with white blouses,
full-skirted dresses with Peter Pan collars.
All brand new for back to school.

We never chose a dress or shoe
from a store’s racks and stacks.

We never heard the words:
You can’t try that on here, or
Use the colored dressing room.
We never stood in line waiting
while the salesclerk served
tow-headed children and their Mommas
first. We didn’t see the pickets
parading Freedom Now signs
in front of Woolworth’s, didn’t see
the passers-by shove and push and
spit and yell Nigger!

We waited at home excited
for Momma all flushed and breathless
from carrying her downtown load.
We waited at home anxious
fingers crossed that what she chose
was what we wanted.
She left us home
ignorant of the price paid.
Recent comment in this post
Carrie Hirschfield
Powerful and heart wrenching!
Friday, 27 January 2017 20:45
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