The Aviator

I have always liked to think that the birds of St. Michael’s were my friends. They have been with me my entire life, and that’s more than I can say for most folks I’ve encountered. c3afaa327f1a7aa93a40b4bf034479c8Despite the changing of the seasons and endless flipping of calendars, they have remained as constant as the bells that bring in the dawn. The clear and bright sound of their ringing disperses the fog every morning, and with it there is a chorus of beating wings to add to the hymn. I can recall waking up to those bells every day as a child. Now, despite all the changes in my life, the only thing that has changed in regards to how I wake up is the view from the bedroom window.

The only creatures that seem to be alive when I wake up now are the birds. Marvelously humbling creatures they are. Despite how swiftly the river of time flows, it would seem that we will always be craning our necks to see them. Even planes have their limitations, like fuel or bad weather, but birds can fly whenever they wish for however long they choose. Such freedom would be exhilarating I imagine. Back when I was young my life used to be that way. As the youngest in a family of eight my parents and older siblings had very little time to watch me, so I spent my days wandering the cobblestone streets of my town, often throwing breadcrumbs to the birds of the church. Perhaps that is why birds can fly and we cannot. They live so close to God’s own house that it must only be natural that they can almost touch the heavens. At night they all roost in the bell tower. I fear they must be cold at night, the poor little dears with nothing but feathers to keep them warm. I’m always cold at night now. I ask the nurses to add extra blankets to the bed, but they’re the kind that makes the skin itch something dreadful.

I suppose the birds have each other to keep warm. They bundle in tight for the night in their bell tower bed, dreaming of how they will take to the sky come morning. No one else will be awake to see them rise except me. Everyone sleeps in late now. Sometimes I fear that our world has forgotten what a sunrise looks like. God paints the sky every morning, and yet when I stare down from my window I see empty streets. It’s a melancholy sight. Some might call it peaceful, but it only makes me sad. An empty street is a lonely one. There’s nothing to make the ground give off a jolly rattle, and so by leaving them alone they are condemned to sleep. And so I watch the birds take to the sky alone. Up they go, higher than the kites of my childhood could ever hope to reach. I’ve got half a mind to fly a kite right now. What a sight that would be, a woman my age with a kite in town square. Of course, no one would see it anyway. And it’s not as if the nurses would let me go. These days I can’t be trusted to go to the bathroom by myself let alone walk into town. They keep insisting I could fall and hurt myself. Clearly they don’t know how strong my legs are. As a girl, I was the fastest runner in my seventh grade class, boys included. No one could catch me. Every time I tell that story though, the only response I get is that times have change. I don’t see how that could be. I still have the same legs after all. It’s not as though I’ve gone and gotten a new pair. The memory of running like that is still in them somewhere. Of course, I could never run now, but I’m certain I could walk mighty fine on my own. Well enough to get to St. Michael’s at least. It’s only two blocks from here. I can see it from my bedroom window. It’s a lovely sight. Did you know that the bells ring there every morning? It’s like clockwork really. Despite all that’s changed, they’re the one thing I can count on. That and the birds, my darling little birds.

I like to think of them as mine. No one else seems to care much about them now, but I still do. I remember how folks used to feed them. Children would tug at their mother’s arms, asking for pocket change to buy a bag of breadcrumbs. Folks were more compassionate then I think. Or at the very least, they noticed more. Once the streets do wake up, long after the sun has been in the sky I might add, people walk by them in droves, and rarely does anyone seem to see them. Unless, of course, the birds are in their way. If that’s the case people scold them and shoo them, calling them a nuisance among other things. The kind of language one does hear in front of God’s house these days is appalling. And with nothing left to turn to, the birds take to the sky, seeking the kind of warmth that divine love can give. Even with that though, I imagine they must be lonely. They must know how things used to be. They must miss it.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the world of the morning. When no one is awake but them or I, time seems to echo back on itself. The nice thing about quiet streets is it guarantees I can hear the bells. My ears aren’t what they used to be, and sometimes I fear that if cars start driving early in the morning, I will miss my wake-up call. Then I won’t get to see my friends immerse themselves that melted crayon sky. 8636567709_9f10548eab_mI must confess, sometimes I imagine I am among their numbers. That my fingers have stopped their infernal shaking and that they can crack my window open. From there, I would stand tall upon my ledge and a leap so strong that I would shoot up into the sky. My friends would teach me how to fly then and we’d soar until the town became nothing but a speck. We wouldn’t come down until nightfall, but even then we would share a roost. No more itchy blankets, only soft down feathers. I had a down quilt growing up. My own grandmother had made it by hand, back in the old country. Of course, it was falling apart the last time I remember seeing it. I asked my son to pack it with my things when they moved me. He said it was lost in the journey. But with my bird friends, it would be almost as if I had my quilt back. How lovely that would be!

That would be a dream life I should think; flying clear and free. Everyone around you encouraging you to go higher rather than to stay on the ground. Of course, it will never happen. My wings have been clipped I’m afraid. Instead, I will have to content myself to nothing more than the ringing of bells and the sight of grey feathers among an illuminated morning sky.

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Redwood

11428980715_f39da7b7fb_oFact: The average Californian Redwood stands well over 300 feet tall at its maturity. They are a species of tree so majestic, so impressive, people from far and wide journey to the sweeping coast of California to see them; wanting to see for themselves whether or not the photographs lie.

The truth is the pictures do not do them justice.

And how could anyone expect them too? Pictures don’t show the liquid kaleidoscope of light on the forest floor, the way even the tiniest rustle of wind can shift that mosaic of leaf and shadow. Flung along within that wind and dampening the air float mingling hints of spray from both river and ocean. The roar of these not so far off bodies of water stand backdrop to it all, humming the never-ending hymns of this ancient world. No moment in the Redwoods is ever the same twice. And attempting to catch details of that one moment with an imprint of light on paper is laughable really. The only sort of impression that can do the Californian Redwoods justice is that of one made on the mind.

My first memory of the Redwoods comes from when I was four. It was my birthday and my parents were going to take me to the magic forest where they fell in love.
To an adult these trees are dwarfing; to a child they are infinite. Little neck craned up at the heavens, it was impressive I didn’t topple backward from straining my gaze so high.
I remember clouds intertwining with the tops of trees and I swear at that moment the canopy was playing doormat to the golden gate of heaven.

“I found out where the angels are,” I informed my parents solemnly as I pointed to the treetops. They laughed and Dad bent down to ruffle my hair.

“Angels eh? That can’t be right kiddo, you’re down here not up there.” And with a scoop of his arm I was up on his shoulders, feeling almost as tall as one of those trees. Mom pulled out the camera with a smile and snapped a picture.

It does not do the memory justice.

Fact: The average Californian Redwood lives to be almost 700 years old.

The average human lives to be around 70.

My father outlived neither.

In the end it was an accident. Slippery roads and too much fog and suddenly all that’s left of Daddy are a tombstone that bears his name but not his face. The man who loved trees and forests and everything about nature, as though they were both his parent and child all at once lies still, buried in a wooden box. It surprises me still that Dad didn’t spring up and out of that hole in the ground and chastise us on killing trees on his behalf. It makes me doubt on if that was even really him in there.

Is there any way that he could lay still in the cool dark of the earth, surrounded by what was once forest, but without the spinning of the kaleidoscope. This is the man who refused to put hardwood in our house because he said it made him nauseous. There is no way he could rest easy without that ever-changing shimmer of light and shadow. And even if it was there, it would pale in comparison that of the day I turned four.

That moment was perfect.

That moment is long since gone.

It’s been almost five years now since the last time I saw my Dad and what we could have had still haunts me. All the days we could have spent together. The stolen glances and murmured words him and Mom could have shared when they thought I wasn’t listening.

All of it gone.

Uprooted.

And since then, I haven’t been able to stomach the thought of going back to the Redwoods. Mom has offered that we could go, just the two of us. With a gentle hand tucking loose strands of hair behind my ear she’d say that he would want us to keep visiting the forest and that he’d see it through our eyes.

Biting my tongue was all I could do from asking why he didn’t just see it with his own.

Fact: The Californian Redwood is an endangered species. Logging and pollution and practically every other foul thing humanity does have finally made an impact so gargantuan it threatens the very existence of the tallest living beings on Earth. It is a hard truth to swallow. Looking back on it, I think that might be why Dad loved the Redwoods so much. Not just because they are beautiful but also because they are precious and need protecting. And maybe, just maybe, he saw angels in that forest too.

And as I find myself finally standing once more among the Redwoods, all I can think about is that Dad must still be here. Sitting up on a cloud in the canopy, one too many strains of the neck out of view and watching me. I almost feel like asking him if he’s watching me, if he’s been waiting.

The truth I’m not sure why I’m here. I had taken the car out driving and I had ended up here. The first beams of morning light were beginning to catch in the fog, painting it baby pink. The kaleidoscope sighs in response and begins to pick up the pace of its dance, energized by the dawn.

“Hey Dad…it’s been a while. It’s my birthday, but you already knew that… I’m sorry I haven’t come to see you before. It’s… been hard.”

My words are greeted by an epiphany.

IMG_0388-266x400No forest is ever truly silent or still, but I swear at that moment even the river and ocean have fallen mute. And for a heartbeat I can feel both him and the forest listening. With the heart of a child and the body of a young woman I almost wish the forest would replay the part of its ancient song I first heard when I was four. I wish but I know it won’t come true. No forest is the same way twice. And even if it could be, I’ve already made it break one of its rules today.

So I compromise. I finally turn my mind away from memory and allow myself to see the real world before me.

It is still not perfect.

It is still not the same.

But that does not mean it isn’t worthy of notice.

Bird song begins to fill the woods and that is when I know the Redwoods are finally beginning to awake, however groggy they may be. I find myself noticing wet on my cheeks. I don’t remember starting to cry.

I try to find my voice to let Dad know I’m leaving but it catches in my throat. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid. Dad did always say our actions speak louder than our words.
And so that is why decide as I get back behind the wheel, head much clearer than when I first came here, that the thing I want most for my birthday is to plant a tree.