Tag Archives: growth

Birds & Broken Hearts, Pelicans & Productivity

(Top left clockwise: Least Bittern, Barn Owl, Starling nestling, Second year, Brown pelican, Ruddy duck female)

“Here I am. Here I am. Here I am. Here!” a Scarlet tanager announces every few seconds, yet remains hidden in the trees despite his blood-red body and coal-black wings.

I’ve strained my eyes for ten minutes trying to locate him in the dense oak, maple, and tulip trees to only catch the briefest flash of red as he dives deeper into the treetops.

Water thrushes pipe along the river and robins sing from low bushes. Red-eyed and Black-whiskered vireos chip and chirp their distinctive calls, little gray-green bundles of feathers forever in motion in the bright green leaves.

There are catbirds here also, yet another bird to add to my life list. I feel some guilt for calling one out of dense brush with a recording on my phone. He approaches in the open, echoing my phone repeatedly, concerned, it seems, as if answering a mate. I end the charade and seconds later, he dips back into cover.

Birds, not boys, were my first love. I wrote silly little poems about them as soon as I could string words together but before I knew or had seen their variety.

When I left Surfside Beach, I left my “puppy birds,” my beloved Brown pelicans. Probably the greatest joy of my life other than my child and grandchildren, was rescuing pelicans. I went to lengths most would not, stripping off shoes and socks and submerging myself into murky ponds or the wind-blown “old Brazos river.”

My first solo rescue. She was very hungry & very flea & mite infested. And I had no crate. She sat quietly while I drove her 20 miles. The fleas & mites were not so obliging.

Of all the things I left behind—a man, a job, beautiful sunrises, and amazing storms—the pelicans were my greatest loss. Some days I’m convinced it wasn’t the man that broke my heart, but these flying dinosaurs with their sweet demeanors and often desperate need for help. The man didn’t need me; the birds did.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to—my being needed.

I tried telling a friend, as I have tried telling many people in my life, I must have purpose and without it, I am flotsam. He said, “Purpose isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” (Paraphrasing because — crummy memory)

My ex would say my purpose was to take care of him and his house.

My family would say they need me so that’s purpose enough.

My writer friends say my purpose is to put my art out into the void.

They’re all wrong and all speaking from places of value in this world. They have people and things for whom and which to care. My friend has family and a job that expect his care and effort. My ex has a job to which he endlessly tends. My daughter has her job and kids that need her. My writer friends have established writing careers and other jobs.

When I worked full time, I felt whole. I felt needed. I was rewarded for my efforts.

This society rewards “work” but it doesn’t reward saving birds. Two Surfsiders were kind enough to help me with a little money when I was spending hundreds on gas every quarter to save birds.

Society rewards only what it sees as “product,” some outward and obvious expression of usefulness. A bird, healed from a shark bite or parasitic infestation and released back into the wild is, “nice,” even admirable, but not a product. It doesn’t warrant pay and barely warrants praise.

Yet, all these songbirds I have been listening to and recording for the past two weeks as they fly through or settle in the mountains, are crucial to the workings of this planet. Diversity in animals is as important as diversity in humans. We let these things fall apart because of selfishness, greed, “capitalism,” and the mistaken belief that the more money we make, the more value we have. Pretty, wild things have no transferable value.

In my heart, I know that what I did for the birds of Surfside was of value. What I did deserved more than pats on the back and a few dollars in Venmo.

But my rational mind knows that the rest of the world will never understand that until it’s too late, if it isn’t already too late.

My rational mind still says, in order to be of value to this world, I must find my way to a “good paying job” that everyone else deems acceptable and productive. My rational mind knows that I can’t bear to live out my life not being “acceptable and productive,” because society has taught me without that, I am worthless.

But my heart is so tired.

In this valley off the grid with just the birds to entertain me, it’s easy to let my rational mind slip forever into nothing but bird song and isolation. It’s easy to be the catbird, realizing another bird isn’t there and in need, and dive into the safety of the brush and never come out again.

Craving: Reassembling in Fog

Bear with me. It has been a rough couple of weeks but there is light at the end of this blogging tunnel.

April 2022. South Carolina.

The sky poured onto the forest last night.

Now, in the midday slivers of sun, the duff warms and its sweet musk rises to mingle with the tang of pine & hickory perfume.

The scents smother my thoughts. Dog bounces and tugs happily at my side and I wonder how can his nose, so much more sensitive than mine, not be overwhelmed by this fog of tree.

My head is full—of memory, rage, exhaustion, anxiety, of a lingering love I just can’t kill—yet all this swims in the fog of tree and I can only walk and react to Dog’s alerts, lunges, and pauses.

The fog never lifts as the day wears on. As evening comes, dampness coating Blanche’s innards and exterior, I stare at my phone to try to find words, to try to string ideas and emotions together to form not just coherent work, but a plan.

Nothing coalesces.

For some reason, (the smells and tall trees, perhaps) an image from a nightmare I had years ago comes to mind as fitting of my thoughts: I was a solitary traveler walking an abandoned railroad and came upon a massive pile of rotting, human body parts leftover from some apocalyptic event.

(Yes, I have horrendous nightmares sometimes)

To be fair, it is apt; my plan for the future, my concept of where my work is going, my thoughts on how to recover from my past and move on, my ability to partner ever again, all look like random, damaged, mismatched, and hideous pieces of dead beings.

I struggle to assemble something human from the pieces, something recognizable as complete and functional.

The pieces simply don’t fit.

Sitting at my tiny dinette, I turn on my Bluetooth speaker and look through my music library on my phone. Times like this, I seek something that hits the core of my current mood and existence. I launch K. D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” her silken voice flowing around me like dozens of warm rivulets.

When I heard the song decades ago, I didn’t examine the lyrics but assumed it was a love song. Now, of course, I know better and appreciate it even more than I did in its early days.

Several people (all women) have called me brave of late. Some, I feel sure, have sat back and thought me quite the opposite as they watch and wait (seemingly indefinitely) for me to succeed or fail.

I feel neither brave nor afraid. I feel disconnected; as far from my future and any certainty as that character in my nightmare who stumbled upon the mountain of human offal and stood in disbelief.

In my dream, I merely walked on, trying to shake off the horror of what I’d witnessed.

For now, I can only sit still and examine these pieces again and again. Hope that something knits them together.

I’ve found no answers in this particular rumination.

I wrote. That’s all I can do sometimes. One word followed by another, like footsteps on a journey.

I suppose, in that, I’ve assembled at least some small figure from the pile of parts.

It’s something.

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

Moon Jelly Tide

A few days ago, we walked the beach on a cool, cloudy day. Moon jellies lay splattered about every fifty yards: flat, clear, mostly-harmless blobs in the sand.

Spring is approaching and the tides are bringing in spring things. Warm days lie ahead with increasing numbers of visitors appearing on the beach on weekends while weekdays remain quiet. Birds of prey are scooping up fish and field critters as the chills of winter fade and breeding season ramps up. Brown Pelicans are gathering again, drifting in from Central and South America to form ever-larger squadrons along our spit of land called Follet’s Island.

The wind is in its March wilding, blowing the house into shivers and rumbles. Day to day, the Texas coast simply can’t decide what season to express: Forties one day, eighties the next, sixties yet another.

Life feels upended.

Life is revealing its rough edges as harsh and unpredictable days often keep me from wandering the island while howling, ghostly nights keep me awake with the racing thoughts of my history, my future, and this precarious, ever-present grief.

Springtime. Beach houses. Dogs. New cars. Jewelry. None of these things patches a hole in a grieving heart or solves a personal problem. One simply feels a moment of appreciation of a new bauble, or a few months of joy in the glow of new adventures. In time, the newness becomes the reality of life the way it always was and one returns to routine. The glow gives way to the same internal and external battles.

Certainly, the beauty of the beach and its inextricable partner, the sea, is as soothing as anything can be. Stand at the shore on any given day—be it a calm day with a shore break so gentle that the sand seems to whisper in surprise when a wave falls softly on it, or a raucous, red-flag washing-machine before a squall hits—and one can find awe-inspiring peace.

Can. In theory.

Some days, clearing the mind and reaching over the water for that peace is like reaching across the sky to grasp the moon. Some days, life is upended and you are upended with it and all you can do is teeter at the water’s edge and listen to the whispers or the raucousness and hope to be set upright again.

On those days, I often don’t listen to the sea at all. I put in earbuds and listen instead to music made by landlocked humans. My mind’s eye sees things that aren’t in those restless waters: memories, dreams, past and current hurts. Some would say that is one of the greater of my many flaws. I am not letting the sea heal me like I should but am running from that healing much as I have run from my Faith in the last several years. In the end, I am little more than the jellyfish, lying on the beach, deflated and dying, having traded the healing music of the sea for the music of the unforgiving land.

But, that might just be okay, for now. Processing only what I can process on this Moon Jelly tide might be all that should be required of me right now.