Monday, July 21, 2014

Hummingbird at rest

If you have the kind of mind that whirrs at high speed, and if people sometimes tell you you're overthinking something, as someone accurately told me today, and if you sometimes find your mind stilled and feel a deep peace come over you, just for a moment, as if someone pressed a reset button, then you know how surprising and grace-tinged this feels.

I often take a morning photograph, often of the view from my balcony. This morning the river and the neighborhood between the river and me were covered with a thick fog. My home is high enough that it usually overlooks such a fog, so I stepped out to take a picture of it. As I stood there with my iPhone poised, a hummingbird zoomed along and sat on top of its feeder. Facing me. 

We were five feet apart. We regarded each other for a few moments, long enough for me to snap a few pictures. It looked around. The shutter clicks didn't bother it. I fumbled my way from photograph mode to video mode, and managed mostly to look at it instead of the screen. After about 23 seconds of that, another hummingbird came up toward the feeder, and they flew away together. Almost as if the first had been waiting for the second. 

If you have a mind often in flight, then you know how surprising and grace-filled it is, to be, for a moment, a hummingbird at rest. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fragments from the Frio

I'm still floating on the experiences of gathering with a bunch of writing people in beautiful Texas Hill Country last weekend. These are some of the things I remember.

The deep green invitation of the Frio River.

A heron flapping past the cafeteria window at breakfast.

A wide-ranging, warm conversation over bedtime-snack cobbler after a concert.

A loaf of bread at each table every night.

The shrieks and hugs of friends who hadn't seen each other since last year, or longer, or who were meeting face to face for the first time.

A conversation with a new friend, in our kayaks atop the Frio River.

The utterly enchanting toddler.

The tireless and well-put-together women in the office, up before dawn and up past bedtime.

The communion of late-night conversation.

The comforting envelopment of a gentle rain.

The single women who come not to retreat, from busyness, but to soak up contact with other people.

The vibrations in the old hymnals as we held them and sang.

The balms of the Blue Hole.

Ashley Cleveland's fuchsia guitar, and the beauty in the curve.

The dignity and grace of a woman who fell in the river twice and kept her glasses on.

The lightness of not locking doors and not knowing much farther into the future than the next few hours.

What I remember most, though, is every person who sat across from me or beside me in the fellowship of the cafeteria table and shared something vulnerable and true. Everyone's a geode once you crack them open. I'm so grateful for those inner gems we got to see, and show.

I was asked, often, something I normally go months without being asked: "Do you have a blog?"

An old, dormant one that never really achieved liftoff. Have a new one under construction.

Let's put this on the old one and toss it out there and see what happens. And if you are one of those folks I met by the river last weekend, hi, and thank you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Two weeks ago when the Thursday night discussion folks decided to have a Mexican feast tonight, I said I'd bring the rice.

Recipes for Mexican rice were found and compared, and one was chosen. A happy late afternoon of chopping and measuring and stirring turned sour when the rice was inexplicably overdone on the bottom and underdone most everywhere else. And it was time to be there already.

Four Mexican restaurants between home and there -- I'll pop in one and get rice for 20 to go, I thought. But not on Cinco de Mayo. In the first one, cars were cruising the parking lot like a game of musical chairs.

Cranky-hungry and stressed, I called. "I'm on the way, but I ruined the rice. I have to stop and get some."

"Don't worry about it. Just come on," the friend at the other end said.

"Are you sure? Is there plenty of food?"

"Yes. Come on."

All of the Mexican places were full to bursting. I took her at her word and drove on by all of them and parked the car. I walked in late, empty-handed, sheepish.

•  •  •

Voices call out welcomes, someone jumps up from the table to hug me, a stranger shakes hands and introduces himself. I've brought nothing to the banquet, but a place at the table has been held for me. Before I know it, someone's fetched a drink for me, a plate of meat is offered, directions are given to the cheese dip (behind me) and the guacamole (in the next room). It matters not that I show up empty-handed. Everyone who crosses this threshold is fed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


The Over the Rhine song "Days Like This" has been on a loop in my brain for a few days now.

Days like this
You look up at the sky above you
Days like this
You think about the ones that love you
All I wanna do is live my life honestly 
Every regret I have, I will go set it free
It will be good for me

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


My mother, Linda Lee Gosney Brown, would have been 72 today.

This is the 22nd birthdate of hers that has passed since she left this earth. Sometimes it has been a difficult day for me; a few times, I am ashamed to say, the day passed before I remembered its significance.

Today I thought of her when I woke, and tried to imagine what she would be like at 72. I can't, really. The same, only wrinklier, a friend said. Imagining her wrinklier, and grayer, perhaps a bit smaller, is the easy part. Who she would have grown into by today is the opaque part. As is who I would be today if I had had her presence in my life these past few decades.

She has been on my mind for the past weeks because I am within a year of the age she was when she died. I did the math this summer, calculated, accounted for leap years, and found the date ... August 24. When she was the age I was on that day, she had one year left to live.

What if you knew you had a year to live? How would you live differently? What would be important and what would suddenly be meaningless?

I imagined that I would begin a project, writing every day, counting down the days, thinking about those kinds of questions and paying attention to the daily fluctuations that came as answers.

But I don't really believe I have only a year to live. (I expect more. I know it could be less.) A more accurate puzzle for me is, how will it feel when I have lived those 365 days, and one more? What on earth will it be like when I have lived past the age that she did?

She died in early April, suddenly and unexpectedly. She was planning to begin college that fall, a community college program especially for adults beginning later in life, which generally meant women who had raised families first. She was excited about it, and a little scared, and trying to decide what classes to take first.

I imagine that she would have thrived in those classes, and continued on elsewhere and earned a bachelor's degree, and moved into some kind of professional work. She would have learned to drive -- in fact, she bought a car less than a month before her death. She would still be sending me newspaper and magazine stories, mostly about writers or about quirky things that she knew would delight me, except some of them would come as e-mailed links now instead of clippings in the mail. She would have finished the quilts she was working on. She would have adored her grandchildren, whom she never got to meet.

She's been gone more than 21 years, and I still have nanoseconds when I want to call and ask how she made a particular dish, or seek her advice, or tell her about something funny at work.

There was a time when the hope of seeing my mother again in the life to come created a stronger yearning than the thought of meeting Jesus.

We are created with memory for a reason. I don't know what all those reasons are. But on this day, 72 years after Linda Lee Gosney Brown was born, I give thanks that I had my mother for as long as I had her, and for the love and all else she seeded in me that still bears fruit today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lost and found

I'm glad I took a wrong turn tonight and wound up on a dead end and had to turn around near a neighborhood pool. Otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten to see the two boys heading home on their bicycles, wearing swim trunks and camouflage tops with beach towels draped around their necks. And I wouldn't have gotten to see the boy and girl riding home from the pool in the back of the pickup, amusing each other by practicing their slow, regal beauty queen waves. And I wouldn't have gotten to crack them up by slowly waving back.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Lately I've been thinking about evidence of things not seen.

The most memorable evidence I had today of something unseen was when I was walking from my car to work and I heard the unmistakable sounds of thin wheels on pavement and the locomotion of pedaling. Along came a girl on a red bicycle, on the opposite sidewalk, her big green backpack suggesting a turtle on a bike.

The most thrilling evidence I've had this week of something unseen came both Monday and Tuesday during that morning walk. I'd crossed the last, busiest intersection, and suddenly over the asthmatic coughs of the city buses there was a honk. A chorus of honks.

Look up -- sure enough, there go some Canada geese, flying into view over one office building, still getting themselves into formation, beginning their geese work for the day.

Seeing a group of Canada geese always makes me gasp. Hearing them speak always seems like a blessing or a benediction.