Letter from Birdland: Sharing my world with new friends
In Birdland, flowers have come and gone. After the poppies, came peonies and iris, which have now faded. In fact, all that blooms this solstice are the day lilies and a few scraggly daisies. I think the sedum will be next, which starts out a whitish pink, then slowly darkens over the summer to a smoky rose, then roasts to a russet before toasting to a rich brown (and then living out winter as a dried bouquet braving snow).
This solstice always brings with it a tinge of sadness. The days will never be as long as this one now. Another summer starts to wane. From here on out, the days will be minutely shorter. Oh, I know, we have plenty of summer left. Tomatoes will come, and cucumbers. There will be picnics and bonfires and visits and travel. Fireflies have only just returned. The days are still plenty long, only ...the nights are gaining ground and whispering, "Autumn is on its way."
That's not a bad thing. It's all part of the cycle, but the solstice is a reminder that the cycle brings both hellos and goodbyes. I feel the opposite twinge of joy at the winter solstice — the longest night, which only means that the days will begin to grow.
After a leisurely, mild spring, lots of rain and sweet coolness, we got our first taste of summer this week: long, hot, muggy days that made for a sweaty bike ride to my morning classes. But a thunderstorm swept through yesterday and gave us a respite.
This morning dawned cool and rain-washed. I know the heat will return, but maybe not immediately. Luckily, a few weeks ago, it was still cool enough to ride my bike to Monticello when I visited Maple Point, an assisted-living community. I got an email inviting me to talk about Birdland. How could I resist such a kind invitation?
Did they want me to read some columns? I asked, by return email. That's what I usually do when I visit a place. But, no, they just wanted to hear me talk about how I started writing and about my home. And so I made a little slideshow and packed up my computer and rode my bike into town.
I told them that Birdland began with real letters to various friends, near and far. When I first started writing this column, I would sit down and write a letter. I told them I liked to see my own, looping handwriting fill the page. I would imagine my audience, maybe my cousin in D.C. or my friend Cate in Cincinnati or Carolyn in Philadelphia. I would begin by describing little snapshots of my yard. Maybe the herds of tiny, blue butterflies that gather in puddles after a rain or the mulberries I pull from the trees on my way to the mailbox, staining my fingers and my mouth. I would take that description and put it in my column for the week. I don't know why I stopped writing the letters. I guess I got too busy.
At Maple Point, I showed my hosts pictures of my chickens and Ursula. Some of them felt like my dog was an old friend after reading so much about her. I told them that Birdland is a garden and showed them my herb spiral created with stones from the field. I told them Birdland is a travelogue and showed them photos of our trip across the country to Seattle. Finally, I showed them pictures of my Path to Joy (a winding trail through my yard planted with flowers on each side) and told them that Birdland is a state of mind. We may not always live in the country, but I will always try to carve out a space where I can remember to appreciate what's right in front of me.
My hosts shared with me, too. They told me stories and showed me their elevated vegetable bed, cleverly built to be accessible by some scouts. They had tomatoes, peppers and basil. Ed, one of my hosts, told me he planned to plant a row of turnips. "I like turnips," he said. I rode home again feeling like I had made new friends.
And all my talk of letters made me think again about getting caught up on my correspondence. I have a pile of letters to answer. Today I decided to get right to it. I started with a friend who visited a few weeks ago. "Dear Avery," I began. "In Birdland flowers have come and gone...."
Visit in beauty; write in peace; blessed be.
Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She has newly promised to try to keep up with her blog at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary is available for talks and slideshows about Birdland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via snail mail care of this newspaper.