This morning I went walking early – at that hour when, although light, the crickets still sing and birds fly low.

At a corner, I cross the street to stand where the spray of an in-ground sprinkler system will reach me. Four small black cylinders, inches off the earth, direct streams of water in long arcs that sweep the lawn in slow motion.

Like soldiers, hollow black square posts surround the house. An unfinished fence.

I wait near the street, where large, damp rocks separate grass from gravel. The water takes its time in arriving.

The far nozzle splatters first on a tree, then on one of the fence posts. In reply, the nozzle nearest me does likewise. The other two nozzles have only posts with which to make their music. The cadence is such that some nozzles are still replying while others have begun their next phrase.

The sound of the water hitting the posts is soft at first, increases in volume, then fades away. It is the sound of brushing metal, as if keys were being made in the next room.

The water reaches me finally. A few drops, then a rush, then a parting pat-pat.

As I walk away, the sound follows.

Sound and Spirit

Earlier this week, not far from my house, I discovered what I call a trumpet tree. Its height slightly exceeded my own and the flowers, pale pink trumpets that hung bell -down, were each the size of my hand. They did not have much of an odor but the fragility of their color – the hint of pink that heralds the dawn – and the sheer number of trumpets covering the tree, held me for several moments.

Farther down the block, I started to walk past a telephone pole but movement at the top drew my gaze upward. A long and leafless double strand of vine climbed to the top of the pole where it exploded, a wild welter of green leaf and orange trumpet flower, like the ivy crowns of the Maenads. But although a breeze lifted leaves and then allowed them gently to settle, this was not the movement that had caught my eye. I waited. One, then two hummingbirds made an appearance. Their wings ablur, their beaks needle-sharp.

Continuing down the street I spied a bird cage hidden near the trunk of a large bush. Its wire frame was rusted from exposure to the elements; the inhabitants, two small ceramic birds, refugees no doubt from some yard sale, seemed no worse the wear from sun and rain. In the same garden, a tree limb had been painted the blue of the robes of the Virgin Mary and planted in the side yard. Each of the many branches held a cobalt blue bottle.

The bottle tree is a familiar Southern feature. It is said that the bottle tree originated in Africa, where it was believed that evil spirits would be first attracted by the light glinting off glass, then trapped in the bottles.

In my yard too, there is a bottle tree. In addition to bottles that once held water, also cobalt blue, there are bottles the color of the shallows of the Mediterranean Sea, bottles that once held gin, Sapphire Bombay. The fence behind my bottle tree is painted blue, ocher, and brown, its inspiration taken from the painted houses of the Basotho in South Africa.

Basotho women in South Africa and Lesotho paint their prayers. Brilliant splashes of color and striking geometric designs decorate the outside walls of their homes. When the rain washes away the color, it is said, it means their prayers have been successful.

So it is that what at first appears to be mere whimsy may hold a deeper meaning, the line between the sacred and the profane determined by the maker’s intent.

A Flash of Scarlet

This morning I was scarcely out of the house before a blur of red caught my eye. Turning, I saw a cardinal perched on the limb overhanging my neighbor’s sidewalk. I walked cautiously to the driveway. Blue jays are common on my street; cardinals are rare.

As I tried to get a better view of him, the bird tipped his head from side to side, trying perhaps to get a better view of me. It did not take him long to reach a decision.

He jumped from twig to branch before taking flight and disappearing from view. As I continued down the street on my walk, I thought about the bird. About its movements, quick and bright. About the color of its wings and breast, that of a gerber daisy rather than a rose. About how that flash of carmine had snapped me into the present, and about how the day, already underway to judge by the heat instead of the hour, had begun well.

It is not often that we begin the day truly awake.

A Delicate Line

This week while out on my walk I stopped suddenly in the middle of the block. It had not rained in several days but the ditch still had water. On this block, the ditch was grass-lined, small points of green sticking up sharply from water that reflected the blue of the sky above.

Reflected too was the breast of the egret I had stopped to watch. It stood delicately on one leg. Neither of us moved for a long while. A breeze stirred the branches of the tree that shaded us both.

Eventually, I eased my way down the sidewalk, turning my head to keep the bird in view. It too turned to watch me. Visible now, the feather attached to the crest of its head arched out and down, toward its shoulder.

I stopped to admire the line of feather and the bird took flight, its long legs trailing.

Into the Sun and Out

On a walk earlier this week I came across two groups of dragonflies. The first was near a shaded pond, on the grounds of an elementary school.

Dragonflies always remind me of my father. While he lay dying, the hospital parking lot was filled with what seemed like hundreds of dragonflies. Now when I see a dragonfly, I always feel that is it a messenger, a sign that my father is near.

When I think about dragonflies, I remember that my great-grandmother’s broach was a dragonfly. I do not know its story but I know she wore that pin every day. When we were small, she would pretend that the dragonfly could “bite.” We would advance a nervous finger, she would hide a smile as she covertly aimed the sharp end of the stickpin. At her unexpected jump forward, we would all dissolve into complicit giggles, a rare moment of connection with this woman from a different time.

What I have loved about dragonflies is their iridescence, the veins of black in the transparent, barely-there double wings. Just recently I read that some Native Americans consider the dragonfly a sign of renewal after a period of great hardship. A rainbow that flies.

The second group of dragonflies hovered high above a sun-dappled street. I stop to count. Five, no, six. I stand for a long time, watching.

They dart into the sun and out.


I’ve been out walking this week. If I leave the house early enough, a breeze keeps the air moving.

I’ve been noticing the trees. Each tree inhabits its own space, claims the area around it. Each tree projects its own aura, defines the character of its patch of ground. Here a tree is jaunty, there welcoming, like a greeter in church.

Each tree has its personality, its own nature. The rough bark, a vertical version of a dry and craggy landscape. Limbs feathered with delicate shoots of fern.

It is the limbs themselves I notice. The twists and sudden turns. The unexpected appearance of a bough. No one, I read somewhere once, ever suggests a tree would be more beautiful if one of its branches were higher or placed on the other side. A tree is appreciated for what it is.

Elsewhere I’ve read that this is God’s attitude toward us. In God’s eyes, the author writes, there is nothing wrong with us, and, moreover, never has been.

I count four nests in one tree. Somewhere, high up, an unseen bird sings.