A friend sent me a book of poems and I read it and I thought what do I say now? Wow? So good? Amazing? True and also weak, because those adjectives could as easily describe a slice of pie and while I love pie, “love” also being a word corrupted by overuse, pie does not slice – ha – through the layers of thinking thinking thinking encircling my brain whereas poetry skips right through into my heart into that place where feeling instinct response unfiltered resides. My brain keeps a list of my failures. The poems, restore, are stored in, my heart.

My research on house sparrows yields varying results. Some bird lovers – those enamored by bluebirds, particularly – hate them for being bullies. They don’t look like bullies, the little brown things, chests of black and patches of white, snuggling up in the garden path taking dirt baths all day long. I have noticed a lack of robins, however, and wonder if the sparrows – not real sparrows by the way, the internet says – are to blame. For the record, the mourning doves remain plentiful, the ospreys still traverse the sky and the turkey vultures trail shadows over the kale and strawberries every sunny day. 

I wonder where all the time I’ve saved not traveling has gone. It certainly has not made itself available to me. Work – I am blessed to have a job – has escalated into nonstop emails and tasks I dutifully add to my list even as I doubt they will ever get done. Payday arrives and I open my “Bills/Debt” Google Sheet, make sure I have enough for the recurring donations – the NAACP Legal Fund, Humboldt Baykeeper, the Times-Standard and Pimsleur. I tumble from work into dinner as my husband arrives home, drift into the evening tallying all I failed to get done (including Pimsleur). One night I rejected that way of thinking, pulled out a journal and wrote down everything I had accomplished. The list was long and I should do this more often.

I slide into the driver’s seat and laugh about how unfamiliar it feels. Last July, my trips took me to San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Clemente, Sacramento. A normal month for pre-COVID times. Now driving to Arcata to walk my son’s dog is akin to adventure. Pod Save America fuels my political rage in the 12 minutes driving from our house to my son’s takes. Walking the sweet, giant teddy bear of a dog through Shay Park, trees stretching overhead, daylighted creek trickling by, wild peas glowing magenta in the sun, inspires a smile. Until the sweet, giant dog takes a stinky, giant dump. Good lord. I pick it with the bag I’ve remembered to bring and carry it for blocks, all the way to the skate park, where a trash can beckons, thank God. Across the street a sign attached to a chain-link fence proclaims “Another Danco Project!” Behind the fence, the baseball field where my husband played pick-up every Sunday for years is gone, the meadow of flowers where my son takes his dog also destroyed, all of it torn up into a hundred dirt mounds. I believe in infill, in affordable housing, I truly do, but to see a place for which I’ve held such fondness vanish to make room for another Danco project is even worse than carrying that bag of dog shit all those blocks.

I pick up a vegan Brie and jalapeño jam burger with fries from Plaza Grill, return home, drag a chair outside – we lack deck furniture – and let the work day recede as the sweet, hot, salty flavors delight me. I take in the garden as I shovel more fries into my mouth. The pole beans sway overhead in the breeze. The sunflowers, only knee-high, stand in line, the flower part of their name finally showing in the sun. Royal peas hang purple behind the random assortment of sculptures and beach finds that serve to separate that chunk of garden from the sand and weeds we’ve yet to pull. A hummingbird flits here and there, chest as red as the strawberries I need to collect. The kale has bolted, yellow flowers stretching toward the sky.

My brother tweeted a while back:

“The stress of this is killing me,” I thought, before remembering that tens of thousands more people are actually going to die.

To sit and savor the garden seems obscene. To spend money on pie, whiskey, another pair of soft pants, when lives and our democracy are at stake, and I still lack any semblance of an emergency kit? Random flashlights, a promotional life straw, a cache of batteries and empty liquor bottles refilled with water will not see us through the coming collapse. I grow distant from friends who do not adopt the severe attitude appropriate for these times.

My brother tweeted a while back:

I can’t bear the idea that my decisions in this moment are going to affect the well-being of my family for years and decades to come.

The words landed like an arrow in my heart. The pandemic terrifies me. I fear my husband (asthma) will catch COVID and die a terrible suffering death. I fear for friends and other family, especially my small nephew Dudley – my brother and his wife have decamped to her parents’ ranch in rural Washington where Dudley can be safe. I fear Dudley and his little brother Artie won’t know me by the time we see each other again. I think every day of how to make a fun video to send, to combine clips of various animals I’ve already accumulated. The osprey that flapped up outside my office window. The small fish in the Van Duzen. A fat beetle scooting along the sand. 

I regret my poor memory, my brain too often saddled with stress or deadlines or alcohol to hold on to recollection – I am not a collector of much. I remember to get the mail, hoping for a magazine and the biscuit cutters I ordered. As I turn the corner from house to street, the osprey returns, sunshine glinting off the silver fish clutched in her talons. I call out to my husband in joy, the osprey! She has a fish! Look up! 

Maybe this is a time in which forgetting everything, everything that doesn’t serve at least, makes sense. To hold on only to what’s dearest and tuck what hope can be found into my heart. To focus on the sweetness of the strawberries, poetry, a slice of chocolate silk. I halt my imagining of terrible things and practice envisioning my children – adults, all of them – moving through the world with my love wrapped around them. I know love is not the armor I wish it would be, but in my mind it shines bright nonetheless.