halcyon days

morning lake 2

Yesterday when we went down for our swim around 8:30, a kingfisher flew from a log near where I enter the water. It gave a small cry as it flew to the other side of the beach and then disappeared into the dense cedar boughs reaching out over the shallows. I love to see kingfishers. There were often two of them in late May when we began our daily morning swims. They’d rattle and cry and sometimes fly off but sometimes they’d just keep fishing for sticklebacks and minnows. Last month I could see a whole family of them farther along the lake, darting out and plunging, then returning to the trees.

It’s considered good luck to see a kingfisher. For someone who always observes the magpie courtesies when in places where magpies are common (“Hello, Mrs. Magpie, how is Mr. Magpie and all the little magpies?”), who believes that sparrows carry the souls of the dead and that it’s not good to see an owl during daylight, this is music to her (my) ears. There’s been so much to fear and regret over the past year. The lost visits, the Christmas for two, a surgery gone sideways, friends coping with difficult health issues, the larger world dangerous and filled with suffering, wildfires burning, the planet under threat from our careless habits…For a time it seemed that things might improve in the fall. Then the situation in Afghanistan, the Delta strain of the virus, a decision to cancel a much-anticipated trip to the Czech Republic to celebrate the publication of John’s poems at a festival in Ostrava and the opportunity to see friends there, including his translator, the general uncertainty about the future, well, it’s hard some days to imagine better times.

And yet the past month was halycon. Our children visited with their families, our grandchildren christened the moss patch between the house and the woods “the field”, they raced up and down its golden length, they brought me gifts of dandelions, pretty stones, a handful of fallen maple leaves, and asked me to read the old picture books I love–When I Was Young In the Mountains, Over In the Meadow, The Seven Silly Eaters — and one of them curled up with me on my bed to hear The Snow Goose for the first time.

When the kingfisher flew yesterday morning, I watched it as I walked into deep water. Where did the young go so soon that only a single bird remains, fishing alone in the early hours? The lake was very quiet. A few geese over past the island, a plane high in the blue air. There’s a Samoan proverb, The grasshopper flies about, but the kingfisher watches him. Maybe I’ve been the grasshopper all along, too restless, too impatient, and maybe the kingfisher has something to teach me. A steady indifference? A resolute attention to what is? And what is? A morning swim in a quiet lake, strength, the beauty of my family still vivid in my mind and heart, the sound of the kingfisher as it flew out beyond me, strident and clear.

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