Of birth and birds and the quiet of May

The quiet felt like a blessing to ease the worry and confusion of those early weeks of sheltering at home. The planes absent from the sky, the flow of traffic diminished to a trickle, people passing quietly and widely on the sidewalks. I remembered then how much I love where I live, the place itself, the neighbours all around, all the life.

We walk through Wychwood Park now most mornings. One morning we saw both hawks, one in the nest and one in a tall tree near the pines. Saw the geese, the goslings, bigger and darker than a week ago. Heard the white-throated sparrow, and another bird that sounded vaguely familiar, more from birding by ear recordings than from life. Common yellowthroat? I admired the trilliums, bloodroot, Canada mayflower, columbine, all of which were surprises when I saw them here. One day, on a late afternoon walk, an unexpected heron landed at the pond. We watched for a long time. As we were about to head home, it leaned forward, bent its legs, looked like it was about to take off, and then – bam! – it dove in and came back up with a wriggling fish. My whole family spontaneously cheered.

The blessing of quiet, the strange blessing of staying close to home, brings me back to the time around my first son’s birth. It’s the same time of year, the same warm spell followed by a cold spell after we’d already turned off the heat. I remember that first night after the birth, when my husband slept and I curled myself awkwardly around this unfamiliar creature who I was supposed to keep alive. I lay awake, even though I’d been awake labouring all the night before, even though I was exhausted. Like earlier in the day, after the birth, when my husband and the baby had slept and I got up and made phone calls instead. My body was sore and slow, the bleeding would be heavy for many more weeks, but my heart and mind were racing. I couldn’t bring my energy back down; I couldn’t settle. I couldn’t understand what was supposed to happen next. How anything could ever be normal again after the fabric of reality had torn.

The small creature beside me: translucent eyelids, curled up hands, something alive that hadn’t existed before. He didn’t cry much then, just made the oddest squeals and whimpers. His eyes blinked in slow motion. His hands were curled up tight. His mouth opened wide. Wherever I looked in those early weeks, I saw those eyes and mouth imprinted behind my eyelids. He moved and squirmed and squeaked and simply existed in the most unsettling way. A living creature that hadn’t been there before, that had been made by magic, the most amazing magic of bringing things together, of conjuring, of incubation, of waiting… waiting…

I sat in bed for days in May and June and the spring turned to summer. I moved slowly around the house, watched the big maple in the front, now gone; or sat in the back room, nursing on the borrowed love-seat, and looked out at the big maple in the back, now also gone (oh, how I miss those trees!). I felt the sweet breeze on my face and body and nursed and held and juggled and tended this creature who was suddenly the centre of everything. In those quiet days in May, as the days lengthened and warmed up again, and I tried to reweave my life in a completely new, strange, and irreversible way. We do it all the time, humans, tear the fabric of reality and then mend it again. Life changes irreversibly, and we adapt.

From an online Morning Coffee writing session with Firefly Creative Writing last week. The prompt was “The quiet felt like…”. I wrote more, but this is what I kept. I missed yesterday’s morning writing session because: birds. The beautiful distraction of birds. On my morning walk, I saw two orioles, a kingfisher, and a baby hawk, pale and fuzzy and clearly visible without binoculars (which we forgot yesterday), standing up and briefly flapping its wings at the edge of the nest. And my son, my once-tiny firstborn who is now 6′ 1″, turned fifteen last Friday.

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