The ceiling fan ticks above me. My friend the spider is centered in her web between the two chairs on the lanai. Lulu’s faint snore beside me slips like smoke from her mouth. Outside, doves coo, a rooster crows. I catch the bleating from a goat down the street. Not even the fringe of palm fronds are chattering this morning. I hear the soft call of nēnē in flight and look up to see two, their long necks outstretched, flying over the house toward the town of Anahola. Long pauses of silence run between the threading of tires on the highway.
It’s the kind of quiet day that if my mother, whose birthday is today, were to speak to me from the great beyond, I would hear her. Not that I would need quiet to hear my mother. A mother’s voice is distinctive, as any Laysan albatross chick would tell you. Like a growing chick in an egg, we imprint on our mother’s voice while in her womb. Plus, my mom knew how to project her voice. Even as a high school volleyball player, I could hear every, “Jump, Kimmy, jump,” she yelled as my number one lifelong cheerleader.
Now, I hear the distinctive call of a Northern cardinal, often described as a loud, metallic chip.
Cardinals remind me of my Grandma Buck, my mom’s mom. They were her favorite bird. I’m not sure my mother’s favorite bird—she liked many—however, she always took great delight in pointing out migrating Canada geese that today, I associate them with her. Hawaii’s state bird, the nēnē is a descendant of the Canada goose.
I’ve read somewhere that the Hawaiian cultural view of birds were as messengers from the gods. For one reason, as I understand it, because birds reside in places of the gods—particularly the sacred rainforests atop mountains. I’ve had the privilege of spending time in a few high-elevation rainforests like this in Hawaii, and the energy of these places definitely feels like another realm.
Birds also live right outside our windows, but they can do things we cannot—swoop up and over trees and soar across the breadth of the ocean. With their syrinx and two pairs of vocal cords, birds can sing two tunes at once, on the in and out breath.
In the poem poem On A Girl Becoming, the poet laureate Joy Harjo, welcomes a girl child into the family. She writes:
Your mother labored there, so young in earthly years
And you father, and all of us who loved you gathered, where
Pollen blew throughout that earthly house to bless.
And horses were running the land, hundreds of them
To accompany you here, to bless.
The poem bursts with love for the new child, and I can say I was born into and grew up in the same welcoming love. What a blessing it was.
Harjo’s poem continues, echoing another child’s birth:
We want you to know that we urgently gathered to welcome
We came bearing gifts to celebrate:
And, then, she lists the gifts.
From your mother’ house we brought: poetry, music,
medicine makers, stubbornness, beauty, tribal leaders, a
yard filled with junked cars and the gift of knowing how
to make them run.
We carried tobacco and cedar, new clothes and joy for you.
From my mother’s house, I was gifted:
An insane creativity and able hands to craft, an engineer’s mind for how parts and pieces work, an architect’s vision, beauty, the chin my Dad likes to grab like a handle, brown eyes, determination, stubbornness, a strong mind, fabric for finely-tailored clothes, a MacGyver-like ability to fix anything with a shoelace, gum wrapper, and a bit of duct tape, and stories, long stories—don’t interrupt me—told with great detail.
In her poem Harjo shares advice for the new babe:
Give a drink of water to all who ask, whether they be plant,
creature, human or helpful spirit;
May you always have clean, fresh water.
And she instructs:
Clean your room.
May you always have a home: a refuge from storm, a
gathering-place for safety, for comfort.
This morning, I found myself sorting my closet, the first bit of cleaning beyond the normal weekly chores during the entirety of this pandemic. Looking back on it, I suppose I know what–or who–possessed me, if only for a few minutes. I also refilled a bowl of water for the white-rumped shama who likes to bathe his iridescent blue-black feathers in the water dish that was once our dog Nickel’s.
I believe messages come in many forms and today’s visits from the nēnē and Northern cardinals were clear reminders from the woman who raised me and her mom. They were telling me, “We’re still around.” And on a day that found me sad last year, I find I’m comforted by their message and, mostly, happy this year.
There were no new COVID-19 cases today; we remain at 637 statewide. Governor Ige is considering re-opening restaurants on June 5 and extending the “safer-at-home” order through June 30.