connection, hope, loss

Seabirds, Sadness & Sunshine

gannet on beach
Walking on the beach recently, I saw a beautiful, unusually large seabird. He wasn’t flying overhead in search of dinner or migrating with his flock. He wasn’t flying at all actually. He was on the sand, sitting, feet tucked under him, staring out at the ocean like the other beachgoers scattered along the water’s edge. We approached slowly and saw he was nervous, barely flapping his wings, and we could tell he knew he wasn’t going anywhere. The tide was coming in and he just stared as if lost in thought. I have to assume seabirds think.

We worried about him but after all the wing flapping gave him space and walked further down the beach to lunch. A few hours later, we returned to find the scene mostly unchanged except the tide moving in and our bird now drifting out. I went to him again, talking quietly, and after a few attempts he let me stroke his white feathered back. The tide kept on with its work and I rolled up my pant legs to begin my own. His long beak meant no harm as he turned his head to look back, feeling my hands cupping underneath him. The tide continued and so did I with two more rounds of gently carrying him further up the beach to dry sand, trying to outpace the tide. We knew we couldn’t just leave him to drown, and thankfully call after call finally turned up a rescue who said they were on their way.

We sat with him for an interminable hour wondering when help would come, scanning the beach for someone resembling this bird’s hero. Eventually she walked toward us, an older woman with long dark grey streaked hair and tanned outstretched hands, loving and worn, ready to help. She told us our bird was a gannet and thought the strong northeast winds had tired him out and kept him from migrating. Before she took him, I talked to him again, stroking his back, endless layers of stacked white feathers, soft as rose petals. He turned to look at me as if he knew, knew I loved him, knew I was rooting for him, knew I had his back.

 

The rescue assured me they’d update us on his progress and texted the next day to say they tube fed him right away and he had enjoyed a fish before bed. Our boy, however, didn’t make it. She told me I did the right thing and could tell right away he was weak. She said they usually give a struggle and a loud “aakk, aakk, aakk” and try to bite. Our bird had only sat quietly looking ahead.

Structures and bodies weaken and give out and we are left behind remembering how things were and imagining how they will be. My friend’s adored pup died recently, and I see my own rapidly aging before me. A family friend is divorcing, and I remember his wedding and the bridesmaid’s dress I wore. A dear girlfriend has suffered unimaginable loss with her husband’s abrupt passing. Even Paris once again is hurting, this time it’s her centuries old Notre Dame who is forever changed, but who will rise again. As I write this, millions of dollars have already been raised to rebuild her.

footprints

With every event, every loss, every tear, you can see love emerging and growing. As if there’s a rheostat and the dial has unlimited clockwise turns, unlimited brightness if you should want or need it. Nearby friends and those far away appear and gather and support each other, people connect as they lean in to help, and we remind each other that we are here for one another, here where we’ve been all along.

It’s not just the bird. When things happen, as they do in droves sometimes, I can’t turn off my impulse to dive in headfirst into the vast sadness, to rescue, repair or reverse whatever has gone so terribly wrong, and I’m disheartened and still surprised to find how little control I actually have. There is no pretty bow you can tie around pain or loss. You go through it and, if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by love and support, you come out the other side stronger. Nor is there a recipe for supporting someone in pain. Showing up and listening are probably the first two ingredients.

There is a time to be born, and a time to die. And in the pain, through the tears there is sunshine. Sometimes the shadows are thick and the shade feels cold, but the cycle keeps on, the sun shining, the rain falling. I think back to our bird, our sweet gannet, and remember there was something we could do. We could sit with him, reassure him, protect and hold him, feed him what he needs, make the smartest choices we could and release him. I’d like to think he’s flying overhead high up in heaven reunited with his group. I think they all are.

The point is I guess, the reason we are here together, is… love each other, love each other hard. Sit still in the moment, stroke your dog’s head, rub your partner’s shoulders, enjoy some good food in your belly before bed. We can’t know how much time there is, but we can look around and do something now. Instead of adding insult to injury, maybe the sadness that seeps in after a loss is a reminder of the love? A reminder you are still here. Wherever you are right now, with the people around you and the people you remember, you have made and still are making a difference. To love and be loved: that’s a whole lot.

gannet 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atlanta, Nature

Spring Forward

IMG_7897It’s official! Spring has sprung. Before the mosquitos and the pollen, the poison ivy and the palmetto bugs, we should get ourselves out there. It’s a hopeful heat, not yet summer’s impending sauna or fall’s don’t get too used to this warmth. It’s a pool where the water is great, not bathwater, not a polar plunge, just refreshing, and so you want to jump in. It’s a verb too. Spring leaps, pays, stretches out, rises, arises, resets, springs forward, and gives momentum, movement, rebirth, and a restart. Everything is profoundly awake.

Coming out of winter, spring’s days are clear and bright, and everything’s green and sharp and in focus. Like the vision you’re after when at your eye exam your doctor has you test out different strength lenses, asking, do you like “this or that?”, “that or this?” Each time you blink, your tears reset your view, and you go on eliminating lenses, getting to your best vision. That clarity, that prescription you need, that looks like spring.

The owls are loud, high up in tree branches looking for love, and the other birds never stop singing. Right on time, everything shows up and does its part. Nothing seems to bog any of it down, except maybe competing for sunlight and losing or needing a meal but instead becoming one. For the most part, though, things unfurl, uncoil, and bloom, and belt out unlimited encores. There’s even an azalea named for that.

Once it shows up, you can’t not see spring. It’s there out my window right now, showing off. Budding tree branches stretch over blue skies, and the partial light from late winter now covers the whole yard. There’s purple loropetalum, pink redbud trees, and things to cut and bring inside, and every shade of green you can imagine, a living Lilly Pulitzer landscape.

IMG_7229Even though I’m wearing a wool sweater over my t-shirt, my face is getting a sunburn. I toggle between sweater off, then on again, and repeat. My pale arms haven’t seen the sun for months, and this warmth that seems like it’s sticking around is welcome to stay. This show is blowing through town and you really ought to see it to appreciate the next. Without spring , summer feels sudden, stale, thick, stifled, one big hot mess after winter. Spring is that baby step which escorts you into summer, leaves your dry skin soft again, your face and hair sun kissed. With or without you, the show is going on, but maybe it will rub off on you, literally. Smell Easter lilies up close and their stamens will give you a pollen yellow nose that lasts until your next shower, longer if you don’t scrub it with a washcloth.

Spring cleans, organizes, restarts. Big things are happening. Blooming. Growing up tall. The days are longer, your coats are put away, and you notice the sun streaks in your hair. The markets’ strawberries are the size of a child’s fist, and there’s asparagus, leeks, lettuces and peas too.

It’s hard to beat Atlanta in the spring. Each year outdoes the last. Like when your kids are a certain age, say three, or eight, or twelve, and you think to yourself, this is the best age, and the next year you’re saying it again for that age. I do this with spring, the great green ballet, with beautifully dressed dancers fluttering across the stage. One group exits and the next, even more dazzling, goes in. The show pulls you in and dazzles.

IMG_8167It’s earliest showing is in February. Camellias are blooming, daffodils are up, forsythia too, red bud trees sprout purple beads, and white and pink dogwoods, azaleas and kousa dogwoods bloom. No longer drooped from winter, pansies sit up, and lilly of the valley bunches appear in the yard. Add in the holidays too — Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter — and you’re feasting on chocolates, green beer and Cadbury cream eggs.

As far as resets go, spring is better than the new year. The heavy eggnog is gone, the tree is out of the house, ornaments and decorations are packed up, and the pressure of resolution keeping has passed. It’s just you and this burst of a season. Extract everything from it you can because, like an awesome sunrise, it will be gone with a blink.

Even with all this green underfoot and blue above, some years, you just don’t feel it. There’s been a lot going on lately, globally and locally. Several incidents in my community have happened, deeply affecting friends and families I know. Big, sad tragic things, and silly, unfortunate ones, too. Unlike the light fluttery season tugging at us to pay attention, these things weigh us down, like winter.

Spring can be too much, too bright, and too sudden, and you squint wondering where you left your sunglasses. There’s a pressure to take advantage of this new weather, walk in the park, put down a blanket and eat something nourishing in the sun or under a tree. You get to the store on a weekend thinking you’ll buy something to plant, but it’s all too much, the nursery teeming with people and choices of things to care for and nurture. You don’t match the scene; you’re not in the mood. You’ve emerged from winter barely nurtured yourself. It’s all lost on you.

I get torn between hanging out in spring’s predictable and reliable good mood or staying in, cocooning with the TV, which works hard to pull us in and keep us there. Yet outside there’s always something good on, something to watch, reliable, queued up, ready, but you can’t stream it, tape it or rewind it, and there are no reruns. It’s active. It’s live. It’s now.

Once spring really takes hold, summer’s heat shows up, which I tend to dread, but without it you wouldn’t get those spring and fall perfect weather bookends. Or linger in the long late days it brings and in swimming pools or air conditioning. Spring is activity. Birds singing, mating, nesting. Weeds are at it too, moving forward, growing their best. Everything outside it seems is vying for a spot in the sun. Aren’t we all? Cut back a shrub and it’ll usually grow back fuller, so it can bloom again. When we’re cut down or diminished, we also have a chance to come back better than before. Spring forward. xo

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