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Category: worry

red alert

i didn’t notice the first day. and not really the second day. but, by the third day, the third bitter cold day in a row, the third day when the unfurling of scarlet as it darted from pine bough to naked magnolia was decidedly absent, i started to worry.

now, worrying, in case you don’t know, is something i do exceedingly well. comes naturally. like breathing, only in staccato. only in spending the morning with an eye out the window, watching, combing the sky and the branches. on fullest alert.

as i watched without reason to hope, as i thought of the bitterest cold, i remembered the words of my mama telling me how so many birds from her flock had been lost, in the deep snap of cold.

“couldn’t survive,” she declared in that way that she does, unspooling for all of her nestlings all the mysteries of nature, of life and of death. she seems to know things that come from a long life of breathing in sync with the birds and the woods and the clouds.

and so, as the image of a little red bird, fallen somewhere, on the unforgiving crust of the snow, made the hairs on my neck rise, i thought of climbing in boots, commencing a search. imagined the crunch through the snow, pulling back branches, poking through all of the grasses, now frozen and matted and frankly quite knotted, that i’d left in the yard for the winter, for the birds who might savor their seed, or their harbor, on a day not too cold to put wind to their wings.

then i thought of the hawk. the great cooper’s hawk, the one with the tail so big and so thick i once mistook it for an owl–and that was merely the tail. add the head and the wings and the muscle-bound chest under all of those feathers and you’ve got a bird you should fear.

and fear it they do, all my fine feathered friends. one mere swoop of the hawk through the sky, clears all of the branches of birds. they scatter, i swear, when that hawk is a mile away. they know, before i see a thing, that death in the clutches of indiscriminate beak, or in talons the size of a three-penny nail, is a death to avoid.

and then, always, there is the cat. the cat that i feed twice a day. the cat who curls up on my lap, and purrs like a chevy with ’58 fins. that cat, i pretend, knows better than to touch a red bird. if that cat crosses that line, comes home with a dried bit of feathery red there where he does all his licking, that cat will be dispatched to the dungeon. and i like to think–though i’m sure i’m kidding myself–that he’s too tender-hearted to torment me so cruelly, to partake of papa the cardinal.

while all these horrible endings swirled in my head, i ached for the red bird–papa, i call him–who, whenever he darts through my day, brings me a deep knowing that i’ve been touched by a something divine.

i can be pouring a tall dose of coffee, there by my little side window, and, poof, there’s papa, his bright scarlet frock nestled right there in the bushes just inches away.

or, as i haul out the trash, or dash to an errand that should have been started nearly an hour before, there’s papa. cheer-cheering from top of the oak. or playing peek-a-boo in the pines.

wherever he comes, whenever he flashes his colors, my soul breathes a sigh that makes me feel wholly at home. he brings the divine down to the earthliest minute.

now, i know that a bird is not mine. these birds all around me belong to the heavens. and the trees they inhabit, just happen to be near to me and my four-walled nest.

but, over time, a particular possessiveness creeps in the equation. they are mine, i am theirs. together we do a fine dance. a dance i’m not willing to end.

and so, in the hours when i’d noticed his absence, when i raked all the limbs, when i scoured the ground, i felt the depth of that dance in my heart, realized the intricate wiring between me and my red-banner bird.

it is, perhaps, the shock of the color itself, heart-stopping, really, against the bleak gray of the winter undressed, or the white of the winter, fully attired.

it is that sign from above that amid the humdrum, the everyday, there comes, without warning, without siren, the scarlet cloak that whispers, “your day was just touched.”

it is hope when i need it, a charge when i’ll take it. it is, some lonely hours, as if the Holiest One is tapping there at my window, the answer to an unwhispered prayer.

and so it was, when, after three days that felt like three weeks, that flash once again caught me unawares. i was minding my business–i’d forgotten if only for a bit of a while that i needed to worry–when, suddenly, there at the feeder perched papa.

i moved close to the window, as close as i could without startling my too-long-gone friend. close enough to see his little heart pounding, there under the reddest of breasts. my heart pounded as well.

for a minute there, the other day, me and a bird from somewhere on high, we beat the same song with the whole of our hearts. papa was home, was safe, wasn’t buried, stiff in the snow.

his absence now over, i’ve not yet let go of the sense that i–and he–was saved from a terrible sorrow.

sometimes it takes a bit of a scare to remember how blessed we are.

sometimes we don’t feel the depth of a plug in our heart, until it is pulled. until there’s a hole and it’s gaping.

only then, sadly, do we realize that without that something we love, that something we count on, our breathing is not wholly ours. it depends on grace all around us. it depends on the touch under the sheets in the night, on the peck on the cheek in the doorway, or the flash of a wing in the branches.

the red bird out my window taught me that lesson this week. gentle bird, messenger bird. bird in heavenly red. bird that beckons attention.

have you seen a sign lately? a celestial sign? some sign from above that reminds you the earthliest truth? have you come to know, only too late, how deeply you miss some grace note you’d taken for granted? any one else feel a particular kinship to the reddest bird in these parts (save for the tanager who seems too scarce for everyday musings)?

a prayer for the grownups of children who struggle

prayer for grownups children struggle

this is communal. there is, far as i can tell, not a soul who doesn’t at one time or another come into the ranks. there is no corner, sadly, on this market. no me-me-me thinking you are the only one who knows what it is to lie deeply awake–and not that you’re counting the holes in the ceiling.

hardly.

you’re racking your heart and your soul and your brain, even your belly, trying to figure out, devise some plot, to push back the struggles that threaten to swallow your little one. or maybe your big one.

you are no less than moses at the red sea, i tell you. you and your rod, standing there, palms raised, as if.

as if you, who does not possess any magical powers, can reach into the brain of a very young person, reach in and straighten some wires. get synapses connected. make them see. make them hear. make them not be afraid. make the letters that spill on the page line up in some sort of sense. instead of backwards and jumbled and utterly, thoroughly awful. so misbehaved, that alphabet.

as if–oh, God, please–you could stand in the halls or the lunchroom, or off to the edge of the playground. make the mean kids go away. stop the big ones from picking on little ones. or the other way around. splinter the words being hurled, the ones that are ugly and poison and might sting forever.

it is hell and it’s lonely besides.

barely a soul is willing to advertise the truth of the matter: not a one of us is merrily sitting back, watching little people skitter through life. as if it’s a pond and they were on skates and they’re gliding. making true loopdy-loops.

nope, i am no researcher, or taker of census. i have not knocked on doors asked, excuse me, is there suffering here?

but chances are good to better than good, the answer is yes. very much so. why, thank you for asking.

in my own little world, in just the last week, for instance, i’ve heard all of this: a child who tried to jump out a window. twice. one who died. one who can’t hear very well and it’s making her mad. you would be too. if all day you struggled to make out the words on everyone’s lips. and the lips didn’t move very slowly. not at all.

i’m not done: a boy afraid to turn out the light. another who won’t. a child who cannot see the big picture and hold onto a small fragile thread. it’s one or the other. and sometimes you really need both.

there’s a girl who keeps having seizures; no one knows why. but do you think, for a minute, her mother rests easy, whenever she’s not in her sight, whenever the phone rings? there are two boys who are watching their lives rip in half, as their parents divorce and it’s not always pretty. and two girls i know who won’t eat. no more than an apple cut in very thin slices. and she’s the one making progress.

my point here is not to make you feel drowning. my point here is just to take a deep breath. whisper a prayer. maybe think twice when you next feel alone. when you happen to think you can’t bear it. when the waves of your worry, and your lack of solutions, pull you down under.

i got to this notion the way i usually do. i thought and i thought. i listened and looked and tucked away stories. i jimmied my heart to the wide-open valve.

and all week i rode the waves of a sea that’s not far from despair. there is a boy who i love who is utterly stumped by parts of the school day. the parts where the words and the pencils are. in first grade, as you might imagine, that is a fairly good chunk of the day.

it is, at this point, still a mystery. as if there’s a fog that isn’t yet lifted. we can’t quite make out the landscape. i asked him last night, when word after word was coming out backwards, what it felt like inside. he took his hands and scrambled them all through the air. i heard my heart crack then.

and i know that that crack is not only mine. i know it rises up from the houses, all over the towns, all over the hillsides and valleys below. all over the world.

it would be headlines, i suppose, if there were a house where never a worry there was. or maybe the grownups in charge are made of something other than my flimsy cloth.

i am not, however, one to cave in to worry. no, i find it a friend. an ally, in fact. it stirs me, propels me, gives me whatever it takes, to take on the very steep climb up the waters that will not be stilled.

the prayer that i pray then is this: that even in the depths of our darkest night shadows, when all that we fear comes out of the closets, leaps ‘round the bed, bangs on the pillows, we might picture each other. know the communion of trembling hands. hearts that will not surrender.

that whatever it is that haunts and plagues all of our children be kneaded away. by heads that are wise. and hearts that are deep and filled with infinite chambers.

that we don’t wrestle alone. that the great and tender hand of our God settles quite firmly at the small of our backs. fills our lungs, too, with the breath that it takes to blow back the winds that are chilling. settles the waters. gives us a chance, and a hope, of making the climb, to the crest of the wave.

where, if we’re so blessed, we can look out at a sea of children who have managed to swim. and are stroking and breathing. and making a magnificent splash.

that’s what i pray.

how about you?

heartbreak in the hives

it’s not every day we interrupt our homefront meditations to bring you the news, but it’s not every day the honeybee lands on the front page of the newspaper that’s dropped on your front stoop.

sadly, today is that day.

the honeybee, Apis mellifera, is, as you know, or might easily imagine, one of God’s creations that we love best. (see “illumination: bees’ no lesser labor,” 01.24.07)
and the honeybee, it seems, is in distress. serious distress.

suddenly, starting last fall, beekeepers all over the country were opening their hives and finding nothing–no bees, no dead bodies, no obvious culprits, either. “apian ghost towns,” the chicago tribune called it.

hundreds of thousands of colonies–millions and millions of honeybees–dying off, across the map.

at first, the keepers of bees were calling this strange occurrence “fall dwindle,” or “disappearing disease.” but then, underlying and amplifying the alarm, just last month a swarm of bee brains put their heads together in a task force and realized this was not some seasonal decline; they renamed the mysterious and vast wiping out of bees from coast to coast, Colony Collapse Disorder. egad, capital letters.

no one has a clue what’s wreaking all the havoc; the beekeepers, it seems, are truly baffled. it might be pest, or the modern ways some have come to manage hives. it might be, worst of all, some environmental scourge.

to date, 24 states across the country count themselves among the seriously afflicted; illinois has yet to raise its tattered flag. but, beekeepers say, it’s never a good idea to open your hive before the daffodils are in bloom, so in many states they just don’t know what they’ll find when they finally lift the lid.

what’s at stake, according to the bee people and the newspaper that landed on my stoop, is, of course, the $150-million-a-year honey industry, but worse, the honeybees’ pollination of crops across the U.S., valued at $14 billion annually. (what they do, when all is well, is truck in billions of bees in boxes, and let them do their thing among the would-be fruited plains; problem is, all is not now well, and there’s no buzzing in the fields.)

that would mean, my friends, your produce bin, severely done in. and grab your almonds while you can, because almond growers in california haven’t a clue what they’ll do without their bees.

about three decades ago, an apiculturist, that’s someone who studies bees, estimated that one third of what humans eat is a direct result of honeybees’ pollinating labors, the way they nuzzle their nose in the fuzz of every blossom that must be passed from pistil to stamen if bearing fruit is to occur.

the national research council figures three-fourths of all flowering plants require pollination to bear fruit.

far as i’m concerned, though, all this number pinning only begins to lay out the breadth of the disaster.

here’s a dabble into the depth: no economist will put numbers to the loss of wildflowers, but already in the u.k. and the netherlands, scientists have correlated the decline in honeybees and flowers. it’s a vicious cycle: bees rely on certain plants, plants rely on certain bees. what’s lost is the ephemeral wild flower, beacon of fragile beauty, bursting through the earth with reckless and random abandon.

but what else of the noble bee might we stand to lose? the wax, illumination in its early stage; a wonder healer called propolis, believed to cure or stave off everything from the common cold to asthma to festering wound; the colony itself, model of cooperation and getting the job done, even if an autocratic civilization, what with madame queen bee ruling over all her winged minions.

when i am distressed about the bee, or just plain curious about the buzzing creatures, i turn to sue hubbell, who has been described as “a latter-day henry thoreau with a sense of the absurd.” once a beekeeper in the ozarks, she wrote, “a book of bees,” (houghton mifflin, $12) back in 1988, bits of which originally ran in the new yorker. she puts together words that drip like honey from the hive.

i wish i could have called her to get her read on this disaster, but, alas, i could only turn her pages, remind myself of why it is i am so gaga for the bees.

on page 53 she tells us, “beekeeping is farming for intellectuals.” already, i am more than hooked. not that i consider myself any sort of intellectual. but i know that all sentences that follow will send me to the moon. and they did.

she goes on to tell that “the greeks spun tales about the god of beekeeping, aristaeus. pliny wrote about bees. aristotle observed them, puzzled over them and reported his findings. virgil made bees the subject of his fourth georgic, a part of the series of poems with agricultural themes.” classicists, she tells us, insist that virgil’s purposes were political, that he used bees as a vehicle for his clearly political leanings, to prove his civic points, pointing all the while to the workings of the hive.

but isn’t that the very thing that makes us drool at the thought of bees (and not simply their golden honey), the very fact that bees might be a model for whole civilizations?

and then we come back to the wildflowers. there is nothing left but sadness, when considering that the tender and the robust, both and all, would be helpless in the wind if it weren’t for the busy flapping bee, ferrying most essential pollen from one sweet throat to another.

and what would be a world without strawberry? or berry of any sort? or the apple or the peach? would it be a world in which i would want to dwell?

the honeybee it seems is hardly afterthought, although most of the world, save for all those beekeepers and honey lovers, think little of the bee in the course of any day.

it’s curious to note that back in ancient times, there grew a great myth, the myth of aristaeus, that had as its crisis point the wiping out of all the hives.

it makes me wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned, if only we will listen to what’s unfolded in the millennia of long ago.

here’s the story: aristaeus, it’s told, was the son of cyrene, who despised spinning, weaving, “and similar housewifely tasks.” she preferred to hunt wild beasts. apollo, you might remember, once watched her wrestle a lion to the ground and fell so in love with her, he carried her off to africa and built a palace there for her.

after their love child, let’s call him ari for short, was born, apollo ditched cyrene, and cyrene, longing for the wild, in turn ditched poor ari, leaving him to be raised by nymphs who, among other tasks, taught him to raise bees in terra cotta pots.

when grown, aristaeus wandered out of libya, and amid his wanderings stumbled upon eurydice, a wood nymph, who happened to already be taken, the beloved, it seems, of orpheus. (and you thought modern soap operas were twisted? well, hold on, it gets better here…)

not-smart ari, according to the story, tried to rape eurydice, but she ran, through the woods. in her hurry, she did not see a big fat snake right there on the path. don’t you know, this being a greek legend, she tripped right then and there over a tree root. the snake, of course, bit her and she died from the poison. orpheus, heartbroken, grabbed his lyre and started to pluck. hades, god of the underworld, was so moved by the beautiful music, he was going to let eurydice out, but only if orpheus promised not to look at her until she was safely in the sunlight. alas, ol’ orph couldn’t help himself, looked back, and lost her forever.

the other gods, so furious at ari, punished him by killing all his bees. he had no clue–sound familiar?–why all the bees had died, so he went off in search of his mother, mistress of wild things. he found her living under a stream, a fine place for a wild mama. she knew nothing about the bees, but sent him off to proteus, the god of many shapes, who might have a clue. ari ends up having to wrestle proteus to the ground, insisting he hold one shape until he tells what happened to the bees.

to make a too-long-already story a mere tad shorter, suffice it to say that much sacrifice was involved, but at last, the gods relented and a swarm of bees appeared to ari, who promptly stuffed them back in terra cotta pots.

grateful for the forgiveness of the gods, ari and his pots of bees settle down and live a relatively uneventful life, except for when his son gets turned into a stag, then torn to bits by a pack of 50 hounds.

all this is to say that, perhaps, just maybe, the gods are buzzing mad at something that we’ve done. and we, like ari, must do something rather drastic, something sacrificial, should we ever have a hope of once again seeing swarms of honeybees in our terracotta pots.

it’s either that, or a life that might be hades-ruled, a life spelled h-e-double l. i can’t imagine. no strawberries. no beeswax candles. no wildflower tossing in the wind. it makes me shudder.

whither the honeybees?

record your heartbreak here…..