Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blast from the Past: "stay together, learn the flowers, go light"

It's all birds in the garden this morning—jays, robins, bushtits, towhees—and some creature Rebel Girl can't identify: a mid-size bird, big as a quail, bright red splotch on the breast, striped tail feathers set off on a dashing diagonal angle—russet, white, black- plus a stern straight black beak (Northern Flicker?)

The birds want everything—acorns, pine needles, worms scratched up from beneath the fallen leaves, sticks.

This activity so early in the season—made Rebel Girl seek out this post from four years ago. The little guy is now nearly nine and Rebel Girl is approaching her half century mark. And the birds—the birds are two weeks early as are the trees with their green buds, their white and pink flowers flowering.

from March 1, 2007:

MY FOUR-YEAR-OLD SON and I see birds in the morning, flying by with their beaks full of twigs and long grasses.

It's cold today, for southern California. The ice on the windshield is thick, something to marvel at until the driver, my husband, realizes that he can't actually see through it and it isn't melting. He stops at the fire station down the hill and uses their hose.

My son and I watch the nest-building birds from the hot tub where most mornings we spend some time. It's good for the body and the family. We look at the sky, try to identify the clouds. This morning, none, just the radiant post-storm blue. We listen for the birds, the neighborhood dogs and chickens. We watch the steam rise around us. We're a kind of poem, at least for ten minutes.

It's nearly 30 years since Stephen Jama first had me read Gary Snyder's poem, "The Bath" but I have thought of the poem and my former teacher (almost certainly dead by now) nearly every morning when we open the tub and the steam escapes, the cloud of warm vapor into the cool.

In 1979, I was an 18-year-old student at El Camino College, enrolled in Jama's poetry workshop and over my head, to be sure. But I tried. I read "The New American Poetry" edited by Donald Allen. I wrote. I did my paper on Stuart Perkoff's poetry. The girl who sat next to me did her paper on rocker Patti Smith's poetry and wrote poems about her crushes on girls. My poetry was full of ashes, of cigarettes I didn't smoke and cars I didn't know how to drive. I brought sharp cheddar cheese with red wax rind to the end-of-the-semester workshop party and Jama himself asked me where I had bought it. The Italian deli on PCH in Redondo Beach where the highway curves away from the ocean. I rode my bike there. The deli is gone now too.

I have no idea how I got through that class. But part of it must have been that Jama knew what he was teaching was not the end but the beginning. Most of us would go on and be more somewhere else. He was starting us out. We were doing what we could do with what we had. So was he.

I worry that this year's birds are being premature. But there are tight tiny hard buds of new growth pushing through the tangled branches of the large unknown bush beyond the hot tub. When in bloom, the bush's white flowers smell orange. Framed by my study windows, the reddish beginnings of new growth leaf on an unnamed tree. In weeks those leaves will broaden, their flowers will fluff into pink. Spring. Maybe this year I will learn the names.


by Gary Snyder:

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light


Anonymous said...

Your mystery bird sounds like a flicker, for sure. Flickers are usually on a tree's trunk or on the ground directly below. Based on my experience, most of my flicker sightings involved solitary birds. Flickers are in the woodpecker family.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are getting old like the rest of us as our kids grow up and make their way in the world. Our students are our kids, growing up, trying to figure things out. It is nice when our faculty colleagues give our kids a break and stop beating on them for being so stupid. We were all kids once (before we became "Professors"). Remember?

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