The spring birds have returned. I watched them yesterday on the ancient old apple tree in front of my house. I was sitting on the rock stoop outside of the door, petting Esmeralda the barn cat. She’s an old cat now, about thirteen I’d say. That’s old for a barn cat whose fast and furious wild lives are full, but often not long. She’s a tiny cat with the smallest cat ears I’ve ever seen, barely a poke through her long, luxurious fur.
We sat together, my feline friend and I, soaking up a rare beam of sun after days of endless rain. Two black capped chickadees appeared, beaks full of dried grasses. We watched as they dove into a hollow knot in the tree. They came to this same tree last year for the same reason they come now. They will build and renovate their nest and fill it with tiny little freckled eggs, each a hopeful effort in service to life.
The song of the returning spring birds has changed in tone for me over the last two years. What used to sound so jubilant and promising now sounds jubilant and promising mostly in memory. In each twirl and peep and repetition of song, the continuous announcement of time. We are here. It is spring. The quality of the sunlight in the sky, the unfurling of leaves from their buds, the Angelica spilling over my wooden borders, the nettles exploding in their patch - all of it comes and comes. All of it soaking into the holes in my bones.
Spring. Spring when our youngest daughter died. Spring that gives and takes away.
Sometimes I find myself just moving through a moment, busy with a shovel or a mind encumbered with tasks, and the simplest thing, maybe hearing the croak of the little wood frog beside me, yanks me to a time - that time, when wood frogs croaked and the smell of fresh rains on the earth escorted in our new world. A world without her. A world where everything she was, the space she occupied, the weight she filled a room with, her stories and her impossible uniqueness just became open air for little birds to fly through with beaks full of intention.
We looked for her there. We looked for her everywhere. In the silence. In the still. In the barn while nursing life back into two twin heifer calves, rejected by their mother. How could she? My fury and disgust at that mama cow immeasurable. To have something so precious and hold it so lightly. I sat for hours and days and weeks with those little calves. They needed me. I would sob while they pushed their black noses into me. I would play with their hooves, still soft before life would toughen them. I would lie with them in the straw while the wind blew through the rickety boards of that ancient barn, carrying the voice of my daughter calling her beloved cats. I heard her. Call me, I thought.
There are no heifer calves this year. There’s not supposed to be, I suppose. My work, my calling, is to continue to walk in and through. In and through the unseen and unknown, just blindly trusting. Blindly trusting. All is well even when there’s no sign of it. All is well. In even the drops of rain on the metal roof above me, a soft delicate symphony. All is well. Even when it’s not.
When our daughter died, I was driven by the idea that her headstone had to be one carved by real, human hands. I couldn’t stand the idea of a cold, lifeless laser scrolling along a hunk of granite, the letters of her name appearing carelessly and lifelessly from a machine. I just couldn’t stand the idea of it. I searched far and wide, for months, to find a stone cutter. I found one. And I found his wife. Their daughter died, years earlier, at the same age. We became friends and they taught us, held out a light on our dark path. This way, they said.
The stonecutter’s wife once told me, on one of our forest walks, that their daughter’s death date anniversary was now more significant to them than her birthday. I didn’t understand that initially but I am coming to now. Our daughter’s birthday anniversary seems one that was celebrated by all of us, extended family and all. It was a ‘welcome to this world for this time’. The day she died is something profoundly intimate for my husband and I. It’s between her and us and God. It’s the reminder of time passing, of what we have done, have come to learn as we live here in this world, reaching and growing with her in ways beyond our comprehension. The day she died is the day of her eternal life. That makes nothing easier or sweeter for us, left without our beautiful one, she who was so profoundly a part of our lives and our source and direction for endless love. But it means we are called to move even further into that anguish of loss, to burrow into that hollow knot in the tree and get comfortable enough to build a home in there.
The eggs of our nest will not bring forth the lives of future generations. That time of our lives is over. But our work can still bring forth life. Work that is still and always in service to life. Planting seeds even when it reminds me of the garden pea thief she was. Eating those peas one by one, one for me, one for you. Caring for the animals here, the wobbly calves and the delicate newly hatched birds. Taking wads of newly shorn sheep fleece and feeding it to the fields, watching for days afterwards for hints that the nest building birds got the message.
The killdeers are calling. I can hear the rooster announcing morning and the early sun, somewhere behind the rain clouds, responding as it must. Soon there will be Goldfinches. They found me at this time, two years ago, slumped at the foot of a tree, certain I could not take another breath. They came like a cloud, a great swarm of sunshine into every limb and branch of that tree and chattered incessantly. Jubilation that felt so out of place, so overboard and saturated. It had to be that intense for me to feel even a crumb of it then. I am watching for them now. It’s raining. It won’t be today that they arrive. But I know they’ll return and I will be here when they do.
Life demands participation. That’s the deal.
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bones of resurrection