Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Fairy Tale

I step out on to the deck and take a deep breath. The breeze, brisk but mild, brings no scent of flower or bough, but only the sound of the wind chimes dangling and dancing in the white light of morning. The wet towels I have shaken out into limp flags are draped over the railings of the deck and by noon they will be dry and sun-rough.

It has been a busy few weeks. A schedule full of good things, good times, people I love. But I am tired. I am, like Martha, careful and troubled about many things. I am glad for a Saturday on which no one is expecting me to be anywhere, to do anything.

The plan is to engage my body, not my mind – weed the perennials, dead-head the lilies, edge the ivy that threatens to overtake the corner of the carport. I smear a little sunscreen over my cheeks, stuff my hair up into the new pink baseball cap, and pull the stained gardening gloves over fingernails that I suddenly realize are in serious need of attention.

That’s when I notice it. The fairy path. Wending its way from under the low drooping branches of the sycamore tree across the back yard toward the cornfield, a clearly curving line of irregularly spaced and oddly shaped mushrooms. Several the size of large buttons, a couple as big as a demitasse cup. Three huddled together like matryoshka dolls.

According to the folklore of the Celtic peoples, fairy paths are routes taken by fairies between geographical sites of significance – fairy forts and mountains, streams, thorn bushes, ancient stone monuments – and must not be obstructed by human construction. If one’s home is built on a fairy path, the doors and windows must be kept open at night to allow the fairies to pass through and the consequences of not doing so are grave. Sometimes, it is said, a fairy path, which is usually invisible, can be identified by a strip of grass across a field that is a different color green from the rest. And sometimes, as in this case, the fairy path or a fairy ring (used for dancing) becomes visible by the appearance of mushrooms.

I am intrigued. No. That is not right. I am mesmerized. I stand so still and so quietly that I stop hearing the wind chimes, the rustle of leaves, the birds in the branch. But there are things to do. Perennials to be weeded. Lilies to be dead-headed. Ivy to be edged.

I shake my head to break the spell. Kneeling down, my back to the fairy path, I push my hands into the dense green screen that is periwinkle and coreopsis and Russian sage and begin pulling out errant sprigs of grass and clover. There are roots that hold tight to the earth and whose grips will have to be forced loose. I twist and wiggle, dig around the edges, twist and wiggle some more. In my haste I pull too soon and end up with a fist full of stem, the root still in the ground. I sigh with exasperation, rest back on my heels, straighten my tense shoulders.

Weeding, dead-heading, edging must wait.

I have to duck my head to stand under the lowest limbs of the sycamore tree, the spot where the fairy path begins. There is great danger, it is said, associated with traveling a fairy path when it might be in use by the fairies, but there is no danger here. I am quite sure that I have been invited, perhaps even summoned.

Feet together, arms at my side, I take a step and then another. Deliberate steps with pauses between. Careful steps so as not to touch the mushrooms. I follow the curve, realizing as I do that I am walking east toward the still rising sun, away from the shadow of the tree.

And then I am at the end. The point beyond which the path no longer shows me the way.

I stop. Breathe. Shift my stance from attention to parade rest. Realize that I am hearing the wind chimes again, their music joined this time by that of the temple bells hanging in the chinaberry tree. I close my eyes and lift my chin to feel the sun land on my face. Raise my arms, hold them there, suspended between heaven and earth, until my muscles burn and twitch.

When I open my eyes there has been no miraculous extension of the path. I’ve been given no revelation as to where I go from here. No magic decoder ring has been placed upon my finger. But I am different. I am no longer tired. I am no longer troubled about many things. And the entire cornfield, not just one strip, is greener.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bye, Bye Birdie

A couple of weeks ago I stopped for the mail and, before I could get my hand into the box, heard the distinct sounds of baby birds. I quickly drew my hand back, suspecting that I might be in the cross-hairs of the mama somewhere close by. A few seconds went by without the appearance of an angry female of the avian variety and I reached back in, this time seeing two baby birds sprawled across the stack of sale papers and catalogs.

They were scrawny and ugly. All thin skin and sharp angles, bulbous eyes and over-sized beaks. Still slick and gooey with the contents of their former eggs. They couldn’t have been out of their eggs more than an hour or so by my guess and their high-pitched squeaks and squawks conveyed a desperation that I interpreted as a call to action.

The nest filled the entire back wall of the mailbox, deep enough that an opening of only about four inches at the top allowed access. It would not be an easy chore to return the birds to the spot from which it was fairly obvious they had fallen, but I couldn’t just walk off with my most recent invitation to save money on car insurance, the Going Places magazine from AAA, and a slightly-soiled Penny Saver assuming that they would resolve the dilemma by themselves.

I rolled the magazine into a half-pipe and slid it along the bottom of the mailbox attempting to scoop up one of the babies. The angle from which I was working and the bird’s determined refusal to cooperate did not, at first, result in success. It took three or four tries before I managed to get enough of the tiny little thing hanging on to the slightly splayed edges of the magazine to lift it and shove it toward the nest.

The baby landed on the rim, promptly and wildly flinging his spastic wings forward so that he fell back on the spot from which I had so laboriously just lifted him. I sighed. I may have made a caustic remark or two.

I tried again. And again. Eventually, the baby bird and his/her brother/sister were both back in the nest and I was imagining a dinner table conversation in which the mama bird would offer up a tasty worm or two while the young’uns recounted their adventure trying to leave the nest – the perfect setting for motherly admonitions about behaving oneself and not trying to grow up too fast.

The next day was Saturday. I went to check the mail. It hadn’t been delivered yet and the two birds were, once again, outside the nest on the bottom of the mailbox. This time, though, there was no squeaking or squawking. They weren’t moving, but they seemed to be breathing. I stood and stared, hands fluttering like spastic baby bird wings, my thoughts running from past – "Should I have done something differently?" – to present – "Is there anything I can do now?" – and back again – "Did the mama abandon them because of something I did?"

Maybe they weren’t supposed to be put back in the nest. Maybe that had been their moment to leave, to fly. Maybe I had retarded their growth by a day. Maybe the mama was watching even now to see if they would struggle to their skinny little feet, flap their diaphanous little wings and take off.
I decided to wait. I would walk away. I would leave them to their birdness. I would not interfere.

It was hard.

Later, after the mailman’s car had slowed down in front of Sandhill and then taken off again, kicking up dust like newborn colt, I went back out. Mail, but no birds. Nary a sign.

I want to believe, I want really hard to believe, that they shook themselves out of their lethargy, girded their loins, and flew away from the mailbox into the perfect blue sky. I have no idea if that is what actually happened. There are other options, but I have chosen not to consider them.

I have also decided, I think, to clean out the mailbox. The nest that has been inside for at least seven years can’t possibly be the best place to lay eggs anymore. There must be mites and Lord knows what else in there. There’s really not enough room for an adult bird to comfortably get in and out, what with the accretion of twigs and leaves and thread by each year’s subsequent tenant. And, to be honest, despite my optimism, I’m not ready for the possibility of the need for another rescue attempt any time soon.

After a long time of living, I’m finally figuring out that, while I know I can’t save everything, I’m always going to want to try and sometimes it’s just better to remove the temptation.

Copyright 2012