I'm sitting here trying to think of when my fascination with birds started, and every time I grasp at a moment or a date in my memory, something tugs at me, pulls me even further back. I suppose my earliest memory comes from when I was four or five. There was a space in my ceiling where a pair of ruddy ground doves decided to nest. In the morning, rosy light would flood the room through the pink curtains, and the doves would call out to each other in soft, reverberating coos. As I grow older and I start to really think about why I love what I love, I realize how tightly our lives are interlocked with the world around us. When my maternal grandmother talks about her childhood, it is always with the sound of earth, wind and freedom in her mouth. She talks about hiding in the forest at night to outwait her father's bouts of anger, about climbing tall trees and pretending to fly (although people cautioned against girls climbing trees... it was said to "sour the fruit").
We build our personal maps of symbol in such heart-deep, secret ways. It is almost impossible to pick the symbols from ourselves and to discuss them without the act of going inward, going back, and going down.
The bird lady has kept coming back to me with increasing frequency and urgency since 2007 or so. She first started to insinuate herself into my poetry, especially in my mother poems. Birds populated our garden in what felt like the hundreds after my grandmother's near fatal heart attack in late 2006.
I remember my mother suddenly gardening with an unexplainable fervour, growing flowers and trees where there were none, sprouting things with hands that had never grown a thing before. It was only years after, when I began working on a paper on landscape and women's poetry, that I came into a fuller awareness of the garden metaphor in women's writing and art.
This is how I know that the symbols we write and read about are as real as flesh, and are one of the only means of remembering ourselves and our personal and ancestral stories.
As I type this, it is five in the evening, and I am sitting beneath a Julie mango tree in full fruit. My husband is feeding the wild birds that visit the yard, as he does every evening. The ruddy ground doves come first, then the pigeons, and the pair of loud kiskedees. When they scatter in a cloud of wings, sound and leaves, there are one or two delicate feathers left behind.
There is so much to write, so much buried here, that it swells in my chest like a wave, a submerged self.