The clouds parted to reveal a glowing crescent moon. Tears streamed down my face at the beauty of the gesture.
It was the perfect gift I didn’t know I needed.
We moved to this property last year from a townhouse. For four years, that was the nest I shared with Jackie, my little tuxedo cat. Like most townhouses, there was a strata which set by-laws and rules. One of those rules was “no bird feeders”. Something about how they attract vermin.
Our tiny backyard was a 4×4 square of patio stones which we occupied whenever we could.
Weather permitting, I would work from my laptop on the patio table, with Jackie always lounging nearby. It could never be too hot for us to be outdoors, only too cold or too wet. Sometimes I would stubbornly stay out when a light rain started. I’d crouch forward under the shelter of the patio umbrella, extra hunched over my laptop, leaning into my stubborn nature. Only when the condensation started to form on my laptop screen would I venture back indoors.
This house is different though, in that it’s an actual house. This is the fabled fully detached single family dwelling. It took months to adjust to not sharing walls with neighbours. The yard is expansive and wild (just like my brain) and each morning last winter, when I opened the drapes, a flock of small birds would scatter.
Chickadees and sparrows, or that’s how I referred to them. I put a bird feeder out, my first bird feeder as a home owner, and the variety of chickadees and sparrows diversified. Species of birds showed up that I couldn’t name.
Life here can be lonely at times. I’ve avoided the use of that word–lonely–for years.
To name it places me in an uncomfortable state of acknowledged discontent. I have come to recognize that some aspect of this detached house and expansive yard has amplified the detached nature of my social life.
In theory, I’m not supposed to get lonely. You see, I have so much love in my life. We’re all connected, right? Yes and no. I am loved by many. I love and adore even more people. But, that first winter, days rolled by without human contact.
I read somewhere that by the time we feel the sensation of thirst, we’re already dehydrated. It’s been similar with my life in this new-to-me town–by the time I realize I’m craving human contact, it’s already too late, and loneliness has landed.
The backyard birds were good entertainment though, so I bought a few books on bird identification and bore the teasing from friends about being a senior citizen bird watcher. Sure, I would joke. I’m now a little old lady who lives alone and watches the birds.
The first birds I identified were what I had been calling chickadees. I never called them that to their faces, thankfully, because I found out that they’re juncos – not chickadees at all.
The early morning chatter at the bird feeder would go a little something like this:
Junco 1: “Great suet today”
Junco 2: “Yeah, curly haired one got a songbird mix, it’s great”
An actual chickadee: “Last one was a bit heavy on peanuts.”
Junco 2: “How do we signal to her that this was a good option?”
All, including the birds on the ground: “WE DECIMATE IT BEFORE SHE MOBILIZES FOR HER DAY.”
Or so I would imagine things had happened, when I opened the drapes to view a bird feeder holding only potential.
It became an obsession. Bird TV, I called it, and the back yard of birds to identify was a reliable source of joy and sense of connection.
I started a journal just to track what birds I saw and when. I’m a birder now! There’s the northern flicker – a woodpecker with a heavily spotted belly and low tolerance for being watched. There are doves, but not the mourning doves that one book reported was our common species, they’re Eurasian collared doves. A pair of them! I think their nest is close to my nest. We’re neighbours.
There’s a funny habit in our society – or at least an aspect of my own conditioning – whereby we assume a guy and a gal, a male and a female, a boy and a girl – when we see them together, there’s an assumption that they’re a couple.
I noticed that I was applying this archaic hetero-normative outlook to the birds from my cozy perch by the back window. The pair of finches, were they a couple? Does it matter? What if they’re just friends? Roommates? Former lovers?
It was my first Bird Identification Challenge to determine if they were house finches or purple finches. In my interactions with humans, I’m careful to not assume gender and now here I am with binoculars trying to figure out which pronouns the finch may use so I can label it accordingly.
After a month of Bird TV I could tell finches, sparrows, and thrushes apart by the shape of their beak and approximate size. Every time I saw anything remotely finch-like in the backyard, I’d stealthily side step to my binoculars in the kitchen to study it through the back window. Purple finches have a eyebrow shaped colouring over their eyes whereas house finches do not.
If only they’d hold still long enough for me to get a good look.
One of the reasons I was so happy to move to this little house with a big yard was for my little Jackie cat to have her freedom. At our townhouse, there were two large tomcats three doors east of us, which in townhouse terms is less than 50’. When she ventured outdoors, they would chase her. If she was already inside, they would come to pick fights with her through the sliding glass patio door. Once they chased her all the way into the house and I had a cat fight to break up in the living room.
She wasn’t safe out there.
Jackie is free to roam here. I trust her to never go too far, and to always come back. Trust hasn’t been abundant in this lifetime of mine, so practising on a cat is a good “Intro to Trust – 101” course. Since the spring weather landed, she’s been outdoors as long as the skies are clear.
The surprising side effect of an outdoor, albeit trustworthy, cat has been the loss of Bird TV.
I haven’t seen a junco in months. Chickadees are exotic. I’m ready to quickly spot the differences between a thrush and a sparrow, but they haven’t dropped by in ages. The binoculars are still by the back window, and the suet hangs in the feeder, with Jackie sitting casually below.
I have purposefully detached to this property for a life chapter of expansion.
I set up the house intentionally as a cocoon for me to write my first book. I was surprised in the winter to realize that this book will be a memoir. As the words poured through me to the screen, I saw what a bizarre life I’ve led. A life less ordinary. It’s a story worth sharing.
So here Jackie and I are, detached from society so we may expand. One of us is turning into a courageous outdoor cat, the other is growing into an author. I’ll let you guess who’s who.
Life continues outside of our yard, and humanity, it seems, is expanding as well. The past couple years feel like we’ve moved the oversized couch of colonialism and patriarchal rule for the first time in millennia. And oh, is it messy back there.
The system is designed around white supremacy, to preserve colonial rule. Heteronormativity fights to assert the dominance of the cisgendered male to high paying leadership roles in business. The genocide and land grabbing from Indigenous people and their systemic suppression. Until black lives matter, no lives matter. The last of the old growth trees in BC, which should be priceless, have a price tag on them so high that industry is tripping over themselves to harvest them.
Heartbreak at posts of violence. Heartbreak as another Black man is murdered by those who are supposed to be employed to preserve safety. Heartbreak to the fresh stump of a tree that sprouted long before the ancestors I can name were born. Heartbreak that Indigenous people have been telling us of mass graveyards at residential schools for decades. Heartbreak we didn’t take them seriously until they showed us evidence.
What can I do?
I want to be a conscious person. I want to listen. To learn more about the experiences of others. How deep does this colonial structure go? How can I support the generational trauma healing of others while working through my own?
Late nights of reading stacked on top of each other as I educated myself on the white supremacist system into which I was born.
I lay in bed after one such educational evening and tried every trick I know to shut off the inner dialogue. What can I do? I am grateful for my house and yard, however I only “own” land because of colonialism.
Sleep cannot be forced, and I knew full well that I was in a mental tailspin. One of the roles I played in my birth family was as the fixer. It was my talent to make a joke and ease the tension between mom and dad. To draw attention to myself would deflect and diffuse their arguments.
But I can’t fix this.
There isn’t a magic wand, no quick solution. There are people with pain deeper than I can fathom, and as I learn about white apathy and white fragility, it deepens my resolve to keep learning. The couch of colonialism isn’t going to be moved back where it was, and nor should it. We have to clean up this mess together and deconstruct the system that supports it.
My practice of self love has helped me stay on this earth for another week, another month, another year. I’ve learned how to love who I am, including my story – the wacky upbringing. The stories in my book. The responsibility to share this practice grows heavier and heavier as the days pass. I wrestle with being one more white female voice online talking about self-love.
To love myself doesn’t mean I’m always happy.
I shifted restlessly in bed, physically comfortable between down duvets, fleece blankets, and a memory foam mattress. Mentally uncomfortable from the state of humanity and my role within it.
A sound in the distance broke the silence of the night and interrupted the repetitive thoughts.
A bird song.
Permission to be awake.
It’s 4am-something and the birds are up. Daybreak is the only time of day when all songbirds sing at the same time. It’s called the “dawn chorus” and I just learned about it in one of my bird books last month. The sunrise has been too early for me to be up to experience it.
I bounded out of bed and hurried through making coffee. I don’t want to miss my chance to immerse in bird song!
Outdoors I went into the warm, damp air of the coastal climate. The birds were deafening. This dawn chorus thing is no joke.
I turned slowly in my yard, like Julie Andrews singing her freedom in the Sound of Music. My teal blue fleece robe turned with me, as her full skirt flowed and followed her into the mountains.
Jackie sniffed the perimeter as I sat with my coffee. Nothing from her body language indicated the uniqueness of the hour that we’re up and out the door.
I caught myself continually turning and scouring the treeline, but not a bird was in view.
It wasn’t cloudy outside; it was a cloud outside. Grey fog blended to sky fog. No sunrise to speak of in the traditional sense, just a sky transitioning slowly through grey tones. I sat with my coffee to drink it all in.
I recognized the unintentional gift tucked within this tailspin night. It’s not like I would have ever opted to be up this early on purpose.
A blue patch began to filter through the milky eastern sky. Grey curtains parted briefly to reveal a glowing crescent moon. The drapes fell again as quickly as they opened.
I was awestruck. What are the chances? Perhaps I’m the only human that just viewed that sly show from her in the sky.
Tears streamed down my face. I was broken open by the beauty of it all.
Permission from the birds to be awake this early.
Allowance from the sky to bring my tears forth.
Reassurance from nature that it’s okay to be alive.
To be human is to know pain. To love is to know loss. But once again the beauty of mother earth arrives to ground my tailspin.
Lonely isn’t a word that arises in the times when I’m present to nature.
The message that weighs upon me to share is one of acceptance and healing. These aren’t the platitudes of self love that skew towards white apathy and avoidance of pain.
We can love ourselves in spite of our past – our personal past and that of our ancestors. We can love ourselves as we heal and change. It isn’t easy. It certainly isn’t pain free. My middle brother grew so quickly in his teens that he was often sore. Growing pains are accepted for physical growth, why not as well as when we heal? I can’t heal the pain in the world, but as I heal myself, I increase my ability to support and empathize with others. I can’t believe how sensitive I’ve been getting.
The birds sing every morning they’re alive. Their dawn chorus show runs every day. No matter what the humans are doing to expand and figure out true equality, the birdsong continues.
I wiped my tears and committed to another day. Another day with the birds. Another day to try my best to touch the lives of the people I interact with. Another day to learn.
I know the work it takes deep down to lead this life with love, and I am committed.
So long as I am here, so I will sing my song.