Walking down the hill to the river with Honey Girl tonight, I got that weird feeling of déjà vu; a flashback suddenly took me to another me, another present, walking the dog around these same streets in winter 2015-16.
Like many thoughts that come from nowhere, this one was elicited by a sound. It was the sound of a red-winged blackbird, sitting in the river grasses and singing at twilight. (You can listen to one singing here.)
Back in winter 2015, I was thinking about red-winged blackbirds a lot. I was thinking about black a lot and thinking about death a lot too: my mom had died in early spring that year. When spring came around in 2016, the blackbird’s call took my breath away. I had forgotten all about spring. It made me laugh and cry for sheer happiness to feel alive again, to hope and try again.
The bird belongs to a story I wrote and illustrated to present at a conference on wild children (les enfants sauvages) in Paris in December 2015. The story concluded a post-colonial analysis of the jeune fille sauvage de Champagne who I first studied years ago for a book called The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster (2002). Instead of seeing her through the prism of European artists, through woodcuts and crude engravings that depicted her in insulting primitive stereotypes, this time I depicted her as a healthy young girl running through these woods in pursuit of bluebells, chipmunks and daisies. I saw her as an Amerindian growing up in this region near Lake Michigan.
Although the archives record the quiet death of an outsider to Paris, in my little story-book, Native Daughter, Marie-Angélique gets the last laugh. She does not die with despair, like Europeans–she lives on! First she becomes a black alley cat, and then a red-winged blackbird. The book ends with the reader hearing that incredibly sweet trill that I just heard tonight.
I was lonely and wistful then, and felt some kind of grudge toward the French who “took” Marie-Angélique from her home, “showed” her for entertainment, and “graced” her with a pension to live–and doomed her to a lonely life. I tucked my emotions neatly into Native Daughter and decorated it with collages cut from books on Indians, guidebooks to Midwestern plants and birds, and commentaries on Parisian society. One copy ultimately ended up in the hands of the conference organizer: a scarily famous French writer… who has since become a dear friend.
Like me, the setting sun was sentimental tonight—the lower horizon was ocher and cinnamon layered with tangerine and blood orange, ending on top in a bit of peachy froth, or that pinky-orange foam on the top of an Orange Julius, against an eggshell blue sky and a half moon. (Not exactly like the hills of Tennessee, seen here, but you get the orangey feeling!)
Speaking of which, Rich served a blood orange and red onion salad with dinner tonight! (the oranges and onions were sliced thin, and had just a trace of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. It was sweet, tangy, soft and crunchy).
You cannot know how surprised I am to see the words I just wrote. After all those years of striving and judging and aching with academic isolation, angst, and frustration, I feel the weight is finally lifting. I don’t care if my writing seems silly. If you don’t like it, click out!
Life feels good again, like it used to in childhood. Alan Watts’ Wisdom of Insecurity describes the feeling like this:
“When you realize that you live in, indeed that you are this moment now, and no other, that apart from this there is no past and no future, you must relax and taste to the full, whether it be pleasure or pain. At once it becomes obvious why this universe exists … Obviously, it all exists for this moment.
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it come faster and fancier each year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall outspring all springs?
The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, it is fulfilled in each moment of its course.” (Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, 115-16)
BTW: Can anybody tell me where does the spring “return” from? And where does winter “go”? Those metaphors are bizarrely misleading! Not to mention that the two seasons overlap. Just go outside if you live in the northern hemisphere and walk around right now: you’ll see what I mean. Winter is clearly here. And so is spring. Change is in the air again… but then, it was all along. As was the present. Which is now the past.
Advice: Sunsets are free entertainment. Walk up to a hill, walk down to a beach, or gaze over the valley to the West. Stand there and watch one, some time this week. Enjoy every moment.