Birds, Fox, Birds

This spring, I was sitting at my desk at work looking out of the window. That was a big deal; I'd fought for the window after fighting for a promotion to Director of my own department at the Mark Twain House. The window underlooked the eaves of the carriage house lofts where our cubicles were and there was a bird just going crazy outside. Her nest had become dislodged from the carriage house beams and fallen to the ground. My coworkers called me down to check it out since I am a known animal sympathizer and would be properly sad and motherly-- willing to touch the animals and willing to cry over them.

One of the birds we thought we could save was already dead. Another one was alive, and my coworker Jacques and I picked it up and put it back in the nest, placing the next in what seemed like a stable spot in a nearby tree. We took a picture and put it on facebook. It was a huge hit.

What we didn't put online was that the mother bird still couldn't find her baby. The fledgling was in shock and not properly noisy; the mother bird flew wild around the carriage house, in front of my idyllic window, frantic and heartbreaking. I was told the next morning that our new nesting position had been weak and the nest had blown over in the night, and the bird we had tried to save was also gone. 

This is why I would never allow a Facebook algorithm sum up my year. I hit "no thanks" on that suggestion over and over again.

That isn't to say I had a bad year. Others who have complained about the algorithmic summation of the year cite tragedy as the ultimate faux pas-- posting a picture of a loved one who has since died, or a house on fire-- those are awful, of course. My summary was different. It was great. And it still upset me, because it was so unrepresentative of my own life.

I had a big, big year-- I was promoted at work; a month later, bought a house; a few months later, got married; became an aunt for the first time; adjusted my job again to take on more freelance work. It was a year just made for a top ten list. I don't resist going back and summarizing; in fact, I do it every year right here on this blog; but this year (and every year) I feel that ordinary  life outshone the big things. I was in places I couldn't take pictures-- in a rush, with no battery, in private, in theaters, underwater, in the dark, on the stage.

In May I forgot to go and pick up my wedding dress. I just plain forgot to do it; some of my friends were horrified on my behalf, but I raced down to New York and got it along with a cup of coffee and drove home feeling more like myself than I ever have. It was a beautiful day and I balanced the dress and the coffee on a mailbox while I threw some thank-you cards through the hatch. I felt so happy I could not speak, a happiness I never would have felt had I picked up my dress at the appointed moment.

I touched the pages of a first edition Leaves of Grass  in the Trinity College Watkinson Special Collections library. I waited for Steve Martin in a room with peeling paint and never met him. I sat in one seat at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for eight or nine hours holding a bag of ice, blowing it so that the cool air would fly back at my face to mitigate the stuffiness of the air in an improv marathon.

I was on water; in water; under water. The Charles W. Morgan sailed with me aboard and I climbed the rigging to see how far the ocean went. Twice I submerged myself in the hottest pools I could stand at Korean spas in New York, with old friends. I put my feet in a stream in Oregon and waved goodbye to some friends on inner tubes. On the morning of my wedding I made myself swim at 5:30 AM in a frigid pool because my dad had done it on his wedding day; on the evening of my wedding, three or four feet down in that same pool, I thrashed my arms to pull the drenched cotton away from my face and laughed as a friend retrieved my husband's wedding ring from the deep end. In a lake I paddled out towards loons. In the ocean I swam the same swim I do every year. In the rain we marched for Ferguson. In the rain I pointed at humpback whales.

Some pictures I didn't take because I was busy performing onstage. I ready my work and won a Literary Death Match, for which I received a silly medal. I continued with my team Sea Tea Improv, but I was on six other temporary teams, too-- Julia & Jeffrey, Electronic Initiation (the world's first online improv team), Performance Review, Spoken, Campfire, and Romantic Baby. I hosted podcasts and reading series. I was in about a hundred improv shows. I produced a musical and assistant directed another. I stepped out into countless darknesses and silences. 

So many things happen in darkness. The historic whaleship rocked me in my bunk.  The fireworks burst out over the river while my friends sat out on the roof. I talked in my sleep, I whispered to my husband, I lay awake worrying. I'm still convinced I sleepwalked around my new house but I have no evidence.

One night in the dark, on the night my boyfriend and I had turned off the last light in our apartment, locked the door behind us, and were walking that lamp to our new house, where he would be my husband. We saw a fox running through the city. It was late and cold and the traffic lights were doing their duty for no one. The fox loped down Market Street and ran all the lights and I think it may be the most beautiful thing I've seen all year.

Or maybe the most beautiful thing was a dark night shortly after my uncle died. My family went up to a cabin we'd built in the woods-- a project he'd dreamed about for years and did not see through to the end. His sister (my aunt, who had really done it all) poured out whiskey into glasses. My father lit a hurricane lamp. It was the darkest dark night I can remember. The wood of the cabin walls smelled new and in the back of my mind I worried that the book I'd brought was too scary to read in this level of darkness. It seemed the hurricane lamps could easily tip over and burn everything down, but they didn't. Everyone was already burned down in their own way. We toasted around the hurricane lamp and were quiet.

A wedding in the woods in Oregon. A wedding in the woods in New York. A baseball game in Baltimore. Apple picking with little kids. A pool party. Christmas cookies. My best friend shushing her baby on a lawn while we watched sailboats go by. My sister and I walking in New York in the winter with coffees in our hands. My friends and I sitting in the same pub so many nights a week. A very American year, more than I ever meant to have, but these things were beautiful too, and did not feel ordinary. They felt like I stumbled into them from a strange and eclectic world, lived an ordinary moment, and stumbled back out again.

After spending two years planning and more money than I will admit here, I asked my grandmother what the best part of my wedding was for her. She said the dappled light on the benches before the ceremony. She had a point. 

I have so many ideas for next year. There are changes I want to make; things fallen out of tune that I want to tune. Whatever is already in tune I want to learn to play. Whatever melodies I know I want to add harmonies. And yet I know that no matter what I say now, no matter how many goals I meet, 2015 will be something I can't imagine. I could probably guess the ten pictures that facebook will select. But I can't know if a fox will run down the street or for whom we will have to light a lamp. 

Just a few weeks ago my extended family came over for lunch. I made a fire in the fireplace and we all sat down to eat. After a while my husband began to fixate on a grate near our ceiling.

"Something is in there," he said. 

We saw a struggle in the dark. A claw. We all wondered what it would be. A squirrel. A rat. 

"A bird," I said, over and over. "I'm sure it's a bird." Whatever it was, it rattled and thudded in there while we all stood up. We got brooms. We turned out every light. We opened the door to the dusk. 

My husband stood up on a stool and unscrewed the grate. He took it off and climbed down. We stood giggling in the dark, waiting for whatever it was. We waited just long enough for me to start thinking I was wrong and that there was no bird in there. 

"THERE IT GOES!" my dad shouted, and I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, until I saw it, flying panicked towards the wrong window. It turned and flew out the open door into the December evening. My family, so devastated by the loss of my uncle, laughed so hard and then we closed the door against the cold air.

I'd been certain it was a bird because earlier in the year I had heard a rattling up in an all-glass room we have in our house. A widow's walk. I went up there and a bird was desperately crashing against each sunlit window while my cats looked on. It was the brightest day. I opened every single window until it flew unceremoniously out. It didn't know which window was the open one until it was thirty feet into the open air away from us. I didn't know how it had gotten into the house until we saw a loosened grate in the floor.

It would be easy to hope or imply that these birds were the reincarnated survivors of those that fell out of the nest. But they were not. They were just more birds. Their own birds, trapped in my house. Every year there are going to be more trapped and injured birds; and more that are just fine that I will never see. Every year there are more birds, independent of whichever I saved or ruined or ignored the year before.

Whatever is going to happen in 2015 is waiting in the walls. The best I can do is open every door, unscrew the grates, and wait. Whether the room from which it emerges is all glass and light, or being overcome by the deepening dark, I will wait to usher it out into the open as best I can.