Recently, I have been wallowing in a little pocket of crankiness that seemed bottomless. Such moods often dog me at this time of year; though I live far from the cold and snow, I’ve always chalked it up to seasonal affective disorder. I thought the only cure was longer days. Or Hawaii.
Then I found myself with two healthy kids–at thesame time–and no freelance work for the day. So, after excavating two and a half months of neglected mail, I decided to take a short walk to clear my head.
What I saw so humbled me. How many days have drifted by without proper reverence?
Before the avocado linoleum was replaced, our kitchen table sprang from it on one hefty leg, like a flattened tree. We gathered round in our designated seats, though I can’t recall how or when they had been assigned. My mother sat closest to the fridge for handy mid-meal retrievals, with my sister and me to her left. Next was my father, followed by my two brothers, their backs to the window, completing the circle. I didn’t envy them; it was often chilly on that side, and accompanied by a view of the sink and the dirty pots on the stove. From my position, I could watch the flakes fall, or the morning glories creep up the strings that dangled over the window–our homegrown awning.
In the absence of some or all of the others, the seating plan still applied. My mother and I often leaned our elbows on the creaky oak to talk about books or logistics or ideas, one eye scanning the backyard.
Mid-conversation, it was not unusual for her to yelp and leap from her chair, grab pots and lids, and run outside, clanging like crazy.
After a minute or so, she would return to her seat, contrite and subdued, but the moment was gone, our thoughts dispersed.
I learned not to take this personally.
Her beef was not with me, but the squirrels who continually ransacked the bird feeder, leaving the cardinals, sparrows, and chickadees to forage elsewhere. No one pitied the greedy blue jays, at whom my mother clucked disapprovingly. They got any scraps the rodents left behind.
My mother greased the pole of the feeder, then sprinkled birdseed on the ground, either as a peace offering or to make the squirrels too fat and lazy to attempt the slippery pole. Nevertheless, the fuzzy little gluttons somehow always managed to shimmy up to the feeder.
Now that I am grown, I have a feeder out for the hummingbirds, but it hangs near the house, pole-less, in just the right spot to torment the cat. The squirrels and I co-exist quite amiably.
And yet, I see myself behaving like my mother, minus the pots and pans.
Half-listening to my girls, I am hyperaware of any unusual activity just past the membrane of our home-space. I’m there, but not fully; I’m coiled to spring.
I moved to New York when I graduated from college, and was immediately befriended by someone desperate to convert me. The odd thing was, I enjoyed her company.
I loved going on outings with her, even when she brought her posse of actual converts. We went ice skating; we went to the movies; we discussed being first-year teachers. She had many wise words to share.
She told me that the secret to overall mental health was as follows:
1) regular exercise
2) a relationship with nature
3) a relationship with the spiritual
And, despite her personal beliefs, she left number three for me to define for myself.
Since then, I have moved to the West Coast, but her words still echo in my ears. I was therefore pleased to find my version of a mental health homerun on Mount Davidson. Whenever possible, I would huff to the top and visit what I began to call my tree.
My tree had been dead for a long time, and that made it all the more striking.
Under its branches, my perspective would suddenly change, both literally and figuratively. It was the place to go whenever tired, or frustrated, or stuck, or giddy, or thoughtful, or restless.
It was not uncommon for me to visit that tree two or three times a week, regardless of wind and weather. I would even wander up in the pouring rain, rubber boots sucking at the mud, dragging me into it. On those days, even the dogwalkers left me alone with my tree.
Though a 103-foot cross loomed behind at the very tip top of the mount, my sanctuary stood at the tree, and I loved it there.
So did a particular red-tailed hawk, often spotted clutching a top branch, and eyeing me with the same cool gaze he turned to the rest of the world.
Then…a month or two ago, we had a windstorm that ripped my beloved tree off its feet.
I didn’t know until I reached the top and saw it lying on its side, and I was completely unprepared for the sorrow I felt over a piece of vegetation.
The hawk has moved on, but the tree is still there, lying listless on a dusty patch.