Monday, June 25, 2007


And then it rained. Thick and heavy, the water hit the roof, hit the ground like a percussion instrument and the music surrounded the house, surrounded me.

After so many weeks of choking dust and bleaching light and burning heat, the landscape was thin and flat, but in a matter of only moments, it seemed, depth and color returned. Shallow puddles appeared in the yard. The dull monotone green of grass and trees and kudzu changed into luminous Crayola hues of kelly and chartreuse and olive.

As soon as it stopped I put on a pair of mud-worthy tennis shoes and set out. Down the field road, over the newly-cleared pond dam and around the edges of the laid-out corner field, I walked deliberately, measuring my steps, taking in the inimitable scent of corn-after-rain. My breaths slowed, my steps slowed, my thoughts slowed.

Mist settled on my arms and in my hair. Wet itchy vines wrapped around my ankles. Branches shook in the breeze and baptized me with a million tiny drops. Like the ground beneath me I was soaking it in.

You see, drought isn’t only a condition of geography and weather. It is, at least metaphorically speaking, an emotion and, like a literal drought, can result in wildfires – wildfires of self-condemnation or, in the other extreme, self-importance.

Go long enough without rain and your heart will lapse into survival mode, holding on to everything, giving up nothing out of fear of losing all. Go long enough without water – without the thirst-slaking taste of it in your mouth, without the cleansing feel of it on your skin – and your heart will shrivel up and die.

I was almost there and the rain had come just in time.

Now, no longer panting, I could begin listening to the conversation that had been going on between my heart and my head for days, maybe months. A conversation I had effectively ignored by focusing on the drought.

You have to listen hard when a conversation is being carried on in a whisper. You have to pay close attention to grasp the gist of the exchange. No longer consumed with thirst, I could.

I listened all the way back to the house and I was still listening when I talked to a friend of mine yesterday. She mentioned someone we both know who was going through a drought. The life she’d been handed wasn’t turning out in accordance with the architectural renderings she had so carefully drawn and, as a result, she had done some uncharacteristic things.

She needs some water. She needs a tall glass, a hot shower, a long swim, a good cry. I know.

What I want to tell her is that in the middle of a drought – when all you can see are the stalks twisting tighter and the river banks growing taller and the dust clouds rising higher and it’s hard, impossible even, to remember the taste of sweet corn, the smell of bream beds, the tickle of an afternoon breeze, when the sky is empty and the heat of the day lingers long into the night, it is not a good idea to move around a lot. In the middle of a drought, you stay inside when you can and move slowly when you can’t. You save the striving and purposefulness for another day. You turn the pillow over to the cool side, lie very still and wait.

Wait for the rain.

That is what I want to tell her. I hope she’s listening.

Copyright 2007.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sermon on the Deck

A summer morning at Sandhill sounds like the first day of kindergarten – 15 or 20 high-pitched voices all talking at the same time. The kindergartners, in this case, being the birds – cardinals and sparrows and crows – that share my living space. An experienced birder could surely distinguish among the songs and calls; I am satisfied to sit in the concert hall and listen. This morning I get more than a performance.

I’ve gone out to sit on the deck, notebook and pencil in hand, intending to take a few notes on an interesting conversation I’ve been having with myself in the shower. The sun is well over the trees, its edges smudged by a giant thumb, and there is just the slightest hint of dew clinging to the pansies and geraniums.

The pencil is flying across the page trying to keep up with my thoughts in handwriting I’d be embarrassed to be seen by Mrs. Blitch who taught me cursive in third grade. I hear something that sounds at first like clothes on a clothes line flapping in the breeze. Distracted for a moment from my writing, I turn to see a bird perched on the top of the back steps, a tiny disheveled bundle of twigs in her mouth.

It is a small bird. Plump and brown with white eyebrows. A Carolina wren. (I learn this only after the fact when I look it up in the Audubon guide.) She hops down the steps, pausing on each one to look side to side. When she gets to the bottom she makes one good flap of her wings and dives for the dryer vent. Hindered by something I can’t see, she bounces out of the plastic hood and shoots into the wheel well on the car. A second later she appears again, flying out into the open sky, beak firmly clamped on the twigs.

I go back to my writing and, not one sentence later, am interrupted again by the flapping. She lands, hops, pauses, dives, bounces and shoots all over again. And again. She performs this ballet at least five or six times.

She is, of course, looking for a place to build a nest. The dark cavities of the dryer vent and the wheel well were appealing options at first, but clearly not suitable upon further inspection. So why does she keep coming back? She has everything she needs to make a home, a sanctuary, a place to settle. All she needs is a place to land, a place where her tiny twigs can be safely released from her grip.

There are all kinds of trees and shrubs available within 15 or 20 yards. There are eaves and posts and ledges. There are nooks and crannies, natural and man-made, all around her just waiting to be claimed and all she wants to do is to force herself into a spot that, clearly, isn’t right.

It is time to go to work. I leave my neurotic little friend to her dilemma – to live out her days fighting for something she can’t have or to relax, let go and open her eyes to the multitude of choices available to her.

I leave her, but I can’t forget her. So tiny, so determined, so confused. So like us. So like me, clinging tightly to my twigs and beating my wings against brick walls. Hopping, diving and bouncing in the same spots repetitively. Frustrating myself with my inability to make the right choice, find the right answer.

Later, at my desk, thoughts of the stubborn little wren bring an image to mind. I am five or six. I am uncomfortable – my crinoline is scratching the backs of my legs, the bow tied at my waist is pressing into my back, my ponytail holder is so tight that the skin at my temples is stinging. I am watching my Sunday School teacher put up a flannelgraph picture of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount. He is sitting on a big rock with his hand raised in blessing over the crowd that surrounds him. "Think about the birds," He is saying. "I take care of them. Don’t you think I will take care of you?"

Think about the bird. Think about the tiny little wren with her treasure of twigs that, in the right crook of the right branch of the right tree, will make a nest. A place to rest. And not just for the bird, but for me.

Copyright 2007