I am fortunate to belong to two writing groups and advise a student group of writers. Without the gentle prodding of deadlines, I know I would not have written a thing this month. Today's meeting with the Berlin Writers Group was energizing. Our prompt for the month was "red" and "president." With the last month of trauma in the Capitol, I could not write about presidents. I did reflect on "red."
Red Sky in Morning
Threads of purple, red, and orange raked the sky every morning the winter I decided that change would do me good. Dawn lured me to study the sky in my rearview mirror and to consider turning around to watch it from the beach. Instead, I drove west to the city and a job that had grown stagnant.
Too many times, I was distracted to the point of danger. Once, I jerked the wheel when a bald eagle swooped down from the pines and snatched a rabbit considering a run across the highway. A hare’s hazard. A hair’s breadth away from disaster, I turned the wheel back and avoided sideswiping a truck in my blind spot.
How many years had I driven that route out of tune with traffic while attending to some natural phenomenon? The dazzling mounds of snow on bent pine trees blinded me one morning to the skating rink the early morning drizzle made of the offramp. I held my breath as we slid close to the shoulder and crunched onto Rt. 50 at sliding crawl. The coworker who shared that ride escaped to a sabbatical in Rome and lives there still.
Early spring inflamed my desire to escape. A glorious red maple splashed heat into the placid green of an overgrown field. Red buds danced for a week—their ornamental crowns, purple-tinged crimson, waved goodbye. And the cherry blossoms at the college let me cry on the way home each evening—too beautiful to last a few days, they shed a pink carpet and blew petal kisses across the asphalt.
I do miss the stoics, those russet and ivory cows that munched and stared on my trek from a field of sparse green grass and mud tracks. They were my marker for fifteen more minutes of loud music and the sky shredded with impossible clouds. I walked into work staring up into red skies going orange then breaking up with cirrus streamers.
Red skies in morning; I should have taken warning. Each day held so much promise before reality set in. I promised myself beach sunrises on the weekend every weekday I drove west to work. But each Saturday, I slept in.
The ornithologist on the radio sounds like Neil Gaiman for about five seconds and gets my attention. The interviewer is making the case for his role as a black scientist devoted to birds, so he relaxes unconsciously into a slightly Southern cadence. Why does that happen every time someone points a finger at race?
The interviewer then admitted her ignorance of the proper names of birds, and he laughed. He said that if a bird is red—it’s a red bird. The bird doesn’t need to be named to exist or to be enjoyed.
I’m listening to the tone of his voice as he talks of birds he observed in his backyard during quarantine. Unable to travel to rarer birds, he speaks of his pilgrimage to the yard as we sheltered in place. He shared revelations from quiet observation ensconced in an Adirondack chair before a plastic-lined pond full of goldfish and visiting frogs.
He ruminates over common birds I have marveled over—the plentiful, red-breasted robin, the blue jay, the woodpecker, the gray and scarlet cardinals, starlings, crows, red-tailed hawks, vultures, and the twenty types of sparrows. I am struck by our similar experience no matter how far we are from each other—age, education, sex, geography, race. We were both pinned to the coordinates of our backyards—he, sitting with drink in hand and me, with rake and gloves—choosing to meditate in nature.
Yesterday, the pines that circle my house were filled with robins chirping and flitting--perhaps fifty before I stopped counting. We are approaching the full circle of a year confined to our homes, yards, and neighborhoods. Soon it will be time to take up the rake and dust off the Adirondak.
J Drescher Cooper
Writer and Reviewer