Astonished at the voices of Willamette and wren

January 23, 2020 @ 8:22 am | Filed under: , ,

Northern flicker by Rilla, 2017

Would you like to hear this post read aloud? Allears has invited me to try their new voice recording studio for bloggers. I’d love to know what you think! (If the embedded audio player isn’t visible below this note, try this link.)

Most mornings I’m still sipping my first cup of caffeine when Huck rolls in for a snuggle in my writing chair. He’s markedly up-tempo at that time of day, and I’m still dragging. One way I manage the discrepancy in our states of alertness is to reach for a book of poems, which he’ll dive into eagerly and read aloud while my brain catches up to his speed. The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Haiku volume is a favorite and usually sparks some sweet discussion about the trees, the sky, the rain.

Misty rain;
Today is a happy day,
Although Mt. Fuji is unseen.

—Basho

That’s a pretty good one for a January day in Portland. For us it’s Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, the latter of which we can glimpse in parts of our neighborhood on very clear days. When we catch sight of Mt. Hood, we’re usually in the car. “The mountain is out today!” someone will exclaim. Or: a delighted gasp and a cry of “Super Death Mountain!” which is what Scott and the kids call our local volcanoes. Third winter here and volcanoes are still a novelty for my gang.

Once a week Huck and Rilla attend classes at a co-op near the science center. Rilla has a free hour that we’ve been spending at the museum, a pretty giddy experience for both of us. We want every single thing in the gift shop. We spend long, absorbed minutes trying to solve brainteasers in one of the exhibits. We look out at the gray river in the rain and make plans for walks along its bank in the spring.

After Rilla heads to her classes, I have a chunk of time on my own—still as much of a novelty for me as those glimpses of volcanoes! Often I’ll have a work date at a café with my friend Shannon. On days she can’t make it, I walk to a nearby ramen shop for lunch and then take my laptop to the riverside cafe at the science center. I could eat there, but I really love ramen. I love the unavoidable single-tasking of eating it. You have your chopsticks in one hand for the noodles and the big spoon in the other hand for the broth, and that’s it, that’s all you can do—just eat this meal. No screens, no books even—you’d splash drops of broth all over the page if you tried. I sit where I can look out at the winter streets and watch people hurry or mosey past, and I imagine what David Sedaris would write about them in his diary. What Ross Gay would notice. What Joan Didion would see. Later, if I remember, I write down what I saw.

Not often, though—by the time co-op is over and I’ve driven back home, my mind has rushed on to the next thing, the next thing. This week we stopped at the bird shop for suet cakes. A flock of bush tits, tiny gray-brown things, swoops to our feeder every day for a feast. A female Northern flicker visits daily, and sometimes the male. Or maybe he comes every day too and I just haven’t caught the moment. We get downy woodpeckers and three chickadees and an occasional nuthatch, and of course lots of goldfinches and house finches. A pair of pine siskins. One sweet little Bewick’s wren. And sometimes a hermit thrush or two strides under the bare bushes, flinging leaf litter left and right in search of insects.

Withered branch
where a crow has settled 
autumn nightfall

Another haiku from Basho, who wrote of being “astonished at the voices of mountain streams and wild birds.” Astonishment, yes. Every day, the world astonishes me.


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Comments

6 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Avatar

    Tabatha says:

    a) I love how you can identify all your birds and b) The Nerviest Girl in the World looks SO GOOD! I’m excited!

  2. Avatar

    Sarah says:

    Lovely. This post is my favorite.

    I will have to check out that book of haiku. I’m loving the Julia Hartwig book you recommended, so I feel confident moving further down my Melissa Wiley reading path.

    I love your description of eating ramen and watching the passers by and wondering what other writers would think.

  3. Avatar

    patricia says:

    “I sit where I can look out at the winter streets and watch people hurry or mosey past, and I imagine what David Sedaris would write about them in his diary. What Ross Gay would notice. What Joan Didion would see. Later, if I remember, I write down what I saw.” Can I tell you how much I love this? And how much I feel like a kindred spirit?

    Also, if you haven’t heard it, the audio version of The Book of Delights has Ross reading it and it is an utter *delight.* I keep it on my phone, just to listen to an essayette or two when I need a pick-me-up. 🙂

  4. Avatar

    Melissa Wiley says:

    Patricia! I keep meaning to thank you for recommending The Book of Delights on audio! I’m saving it to savor as soon as my Cybils work is finished

    Kindred spirits indeed!!

  5. Avatar

    Ron says:

    I’m pretty sure you published this just to shame me for the paucity of birds at my feeder. And by paucity I mean utter absence. (>_<)

  6. Avatar

    Melissa Wiley says:

    We gotta try a different feeder. I’m thinking suet. It’s the biggest draw for us.