I’m like those birds, keas in New Zealand, who collect the shiny objects: I go out in the world, certain things glimmer at me, they resonate with something inside me it could be the waiting room of a veterinary clinic, an overheard moment of conversation, the way the light is coming through the trees. Whatever it is, it hits that spot in me that says, “Writing worthy.” -Pam Houston
It seems 2014 was a year of taking things apart. It is my hope that 2015 will be a year of putting them back together, in more meaningful ways. Being here again, finally, after a long absence, as I begin teaching the nature writing class again, is a starting place. At the Summer Community of Writers this past year, we participated in a writing exercise with Pam that asked us to find and reflect on a few of those glimmers. It occurs to me that last year – one filled with too-muchness – was overfull with them, those moments of utter importance, whether positive or negative. And there’s too much to say in any thoughtfully organized way.
On companion animals: Shortly after my last entry, we lost Pepper, a loss that Z. took very hard and which we all still struggle with; we lost one of the cats this past summer, too, and the last cat is ailing.
On avian animals: That rufous hummingbird continued to try to overwinter, even into early January when the temperatures fell to almost zero and I was changing out the feeder nectar every 10 minutes because it kept freezing. My last sighting of him was January 7th, 2014.We bought a house in March and I convinced a neighbor at the old house to keep a feeder out this fall, in case he returned, but she never saw him. I am still hoping against hope he made it, did not freeze to death (as is common among hummingbirds). Our new house has a very puzzling lack of bird life. Even with feeders out, we routinely have very few visitors. Only saw a couple of ruby throats all summer. At our previous house, the birds could empty the feeder within a day. Here, I’ve filled it once in months and it’s still nearly full. I am utterly disappointed. Especially because last semester I completed the Virginia Master Naturalist program and was planning to participate in Cornell’s Project Feederwatch in order to gain some of my required volunteer hours for full certification. Perhaps a change of food will help. There is a pileated woodpecker who lives nearby, which is always an exciting sighting. I could, though, do without the resident catbirds, which mewl incessantly and annoyingly, just like a certain cat used to do.
On place: Despite the lack of bird activity and that I no longer have a mountain view out my window, it has been lovely to have a place that is ours again. We are within walking or running distance to both Wildwood Park and Bisset Park, places where we find ourselves often. Here I will finally make good on my promise to the girls that we will have a garden this summer. Gardening is unfamiliar territory and is a daunting prospect, given my inability to keep green things alive. It should be an interesting adventure. The landscape of this house is desperate and needs attention, another project once winter flees.
On travel: When I was younger, I used to travel a great deal, but those days have long been eclipsed by life. I have been teaching at Chatham since 2005, and last spring, had the first chance to be an instructor for one of our field seminar abroad courses. The other instructor and I took a group of 24 students to Belize and Guatemala for two weeks. I last traveled internationally twenty years ago and to say the experience was astonishing would be an understatement. This was full immersion in the natural world, in a place teeming with life and activity. The experience was helped by having a wonderful guide (he says, “loving nature is my language”), who knew I was most interested in the wildlife. And see wildlife we did – my spotted-bird list was impressive, and we saw monkeys in the wild, among so many other things. I hope to one day return.
On teaching and writing: It was a conflicted decision to relinquish my hard-won full-time teaching job, but that life was wholly unsustainable. I have pangs of regret every day, but know that I made the right decision. Now I must be patient as I search for a more-right path. I did find, after years of searching, the right place for one of my essays, “Giant Forest.” Now the task remains to return to and complete the collection. That project has been on hold for far too long, another of the many reasons I made such difficult decisions last year.
All the glimmers. Many more to come.