Outside my window this morning: light. This, a cause for celebration, as we have had a week of intermittent rain and gray, washed-out days. When the rain lifts (briefly), unseasonably cold temperatures seem to seep through the walls until the very heart of me feels cut off from even the memory of warm. Every evening I cover the vulnerable buds of the peonies with an old sheet, tucking in wayward stems and humming over them a song of sleep. Stay curled in your slumber until the danger of frost is past, I whisper.
Every morning I awaken to a thick, icy layer of frost on the earth, on the windshield, over the sheet covering the peonies. My dismay is complicated all the more by the quarantine. There’s no leaving this weather behind; no slipping out to the library or the shopping mall. No meeting a friend for an early lunch. The best I could do is a lonely walk around the neighborhood, but who wants to walk in a cold, dripping rain?
And so, the arrival of light this morning slips a seed of warmth into the chill and offers hope. I move closer to the window and press my forehead against the glass. This time last year I was peering through the rhododendron leaves into a nest that held three round, sky blue eggs. This year even the birds seem confused by the chill in the air. But they are trying. A pair of black-capped chickadees in one of our maple trees catch my eye. I grab my binoculars from the sill and take a closer look. The chickadees move so quickly it’s hard for me to follow them, but I watch as they flit about the branches in sudden stops and starts. The trees are covered in little seed pods right now—the ones we call “helicopters” when they take flight—and the chickadees seem to love tasting some part of these bundles. I stand at the window watching these tiny birds as the light drifts slowly across the kitchen floor.
Time moves differently during quarantine, like the fickle light of spring. The moments seem dull and muted, spilling slowly into the day, only to suddenly burst forth when least expected. Like the sound of a black-capped chickadee calling to his mate. A sound I’ve heard a million times, but never really listened to. There are so many variations in his song, subtleties the online birding tutorials never quite capture. I never took the time to listen to a chickadee courtship before.
When the chickadees disappear into the underbrush, I take the pictures they’ve given me to my journal. This has become my new normal, giving everything to the page. I’ve always kept a journal, but the pandemic seems to have added a sense of urgency to this practice. My neighbors are taking advantage of more time at home to invest in projects around the house: mulching, weeding, painting, cleaning the garage … but for me, the long moments at the window and the writing it all down have been the most important work. Some days I am tempted to give in to the perception this practice reflects a lack of productivity—what kind of tangible gift does this offer the world? Shouldn’t I be cleaning out closets? Organizing my pantry? But I have lived long enough to know how writing leads to noticing, and noticing has a way of leading one out of oneself and back into the world. Writer Hannah Hinchman says (in her lovely book about journaling and nature A Trail through Leaves), “When you need a safe place, and you find it in a little corner with a book, a pen, and a cup of coffee, you naturally develop a sense of gratitude for the things you associate with safety. They are the ones that seem to anchor your world against vicious and unreadable tides. … those are the acts that knit the world together.”
Each word dropped onto the page unveils light—a way through this patch of gray, rainy days—even in a pandemic.
sow seeds after all danger
of frost is past.
we cover the seed with
rich soil and dig fingers
deep into the dirt
of life; we plant
dreams and joy and
desire and hard work
the warning came too
late, and who could hear
while the trees are full
of blossom and birdsong?
now, heavy frost lingers
on all the sunlight does
not touch; inside the precise
shadow of the house,
underneath the quince
bush—scattered in fallen
pink petals, along
the shade of the fence line,
the hard bud of the peony
just beginning to open
sunlight takes the path of
least resistance, falling in
shards between cracks and
through the wide-open gate
as I wait, a lonely witness
to light on light
I trim frostbit leaves from
around the peony bud,
whisper a prayer for bloom;
above me, in the maple
tree, a chickadee sings his
song for his lover, knitting
the world back together
with each sweet note.
Photo by Andres Papp, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess.
Browse more Pandemic Journal entries
- The Honey Field—10: Anna’s Heart - May 24, 2023
- The Honey Field—9: Breaker - May 10, 2023
- The Honey Field—8: Swarming - April 19, 2023
Megan Willome says
“I never took the time to listen to a chickadee courtship before.”–Such a great line.
I loved your post, Laura. Thank you for honoring this time with your words and your noticing.
Thanks, Megan! It’s good to see you in the comment box. I hope all is well with you. I’m still working some reduced hours at the hospital so I’m getting a taste of two worlds right now. Bird watching has been keeping me in a good place on the days I’m home.
Wonderful to see your writing here again, Laura. Lovely, as always.
Thank you for stopping by, Maureen. It’s lovely to be here :).
Jody Collins says
What a delight to read something by my lovely friend.
I too have had more time to pay attention to the songs and sights of birds, spending extra ordinary amounts of time weeding in my back yard…. I discovered the song of a chickadee. I knew their call, “chick a dee dee” but never the song. Bits of poetry are pouring out on the page as well.
Here’s my first stab at a quatrain (inspired by Malcolm Guite’s latest Spell in the Library)
Birds, their tones both winged and bright
Harmonize from branches out of sight
Know their parts, score memorized
Flash and zoom before my eyes.
Soprano, alto, second, bass
Throaty praises from branchy place
Echo, float, reverberate
A pause, then celebrate
Mornings’ rise first slow and quiet
Against dull backdrops now a riot
Their songs a span of treble and bass
Background my day, this hallowed space.
This line is so true, “But I have lived long enough to know how writing leads to noticing, and noticing has a way of leading one out of oneself and back into the world.”
Thank you for this, Jody. I especially love the first line of your quatrain: Birds, their tones both winged and bright … Yes! That’s how I hear them. I love the chickadee’s song–so melodical. But my favorite lately is the white-throated sparrow. When my husband and I celebrated my birthday in NYC last year we heard one in Central Park and it felt like meeting an old friend. I’m glad you’re finding time for birdies and poetry, my friend!
Bethany Rohde says
What a lovely piece this is, Laura. I do hope the warming comes quickly there, for your sake and the peonies’. 😉
This resonates with me, “But I have lived long enough to know how writing leads to noticing, and noticing has a way of leading one out of oneself and back into the world.”
Recently, I’ve come back to one of my favorite Simple Pleasures–sitting on my front porch while sipping coffee and journaling.
I’m certainly more aware of the sunlight’s shifts and nuances out here. Deeply enjoyable to scrawl some of my noticings on paper and discover what my eye and mind have decided to put a frame around. (At the moment, I’m out here enjoying the production the wind is putting on in my neighborhood’s trees and pinwheels.)
Bethany! It’s so nice to “see” you here. I’m glad you are making the time to journal during the pandemic—this, I think, will be something to look back on, for us and our families. I’ve been very aware of this during my journaling time, recording bits of what is happening on a greater scale: clippings from the news and numbers as they pertain to our state and community. Trying to bear witness to this time for a future generation has had a way of waking me up—noticing, yes, but even deeper than before. Stay safe, friend, and thanks for joining this conversation.
Richard Maxson says
I read this twice, especially for the poem. You remind us how light tunnels its way through gray in a similar way grass or wildflowers find their paths through rock that seems impenetrable. Sunlight can make frost appear as a cache of diamonds.
I hope the double reading is a good thing, Richard! Thank you for naming that small thread: light will find a way. Your words remind me of that Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” I do love how the sunlight plays on frost in the early morning! As long as it is not, at the same time, nipping my peonies.
Laura Lynn Brown says
This is more of a gift than cleaning out a closet. Lovely, Laura.
Thank you, my friend. And your kind words are a gift to me.