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Fox Sparrow is still here. But I know it’s soon. Almost now.

I have seen bodies float down that river. And I have let them pass, even though they took parts of me, right from the heart.

We stand at the banks, birdwatchers most of us.  An improbable fellowship of a strange generosity. They will run to tell me they just spotted something beautiful and rare, just over there. They delight in sharing stories of the ones they saw many years ago. And I delight in every one with them as if I had been there. How words awaken that. Sometimes a personal story will spill out like a loose feather, like why he remains unemployed. How after her mom died a slow death,  she and her sister call each other about what miraculous birds they have seen that day. One boyish teenage-girl alone for years under a tree told me which of two almost identical species of obscure birds was way up there, just by hearing its call.

Once I walked silently into a group of men bowing their heads crying, their cameras off as if in mourning also. It seemed one of them had been expecting me, because he plainly said that he had accidentally scared a deer into that river over there and it drowned.

Many years ago, he had asked me about Virginia Woolf’s drowning before he took his own life and so I was determined to walk to that river, to see if somehow my response was at all valid.

After a long hike through pastures outside the village, I walked her to the muddy embankment of the brown river running. She has been in and out of my life, even the last few lives too, and when she felt it she didn’t trust it. But there we were. A long curve of river surrounded by lifeless and flattened swales of fields saddled by fog. After a moment of taking in the dull scene, a white thing in the distance pierced through the grey. A majestic swan aflight squeaked its wing feathers in a steady beat, and glided the course of the river past us, down out of sight. Flight and not stones, even if fear changes her mind. The birders among us will understand.

Because this bird knew where I needed to be. In this word. Sometimes I lose my patience with it all, as if I could turn the direction of an entire sentence. But life just runs over my impertinent hands and through my doubtful fingers. And will eventually take her too. And another bird might drift by, or flit onto a branch right here along the way. On its own time.

Like Fox Sparrow who is still here. He knows it is now. He also knows it is not.

(Joan Jonas, performance entitled “Merlo,” 1970’s Tuscany.)

“The birds were fluttering in and out of the open door; the photographs were tumbling over the tables; and, lying before a large open window, Mrs. Cameron saw the stars shining, breathed the one word “Beautiful,” and so died.” — Virginia Woolf.


“With total rapture and delight he talks about the birds which he can see from his prison window, and which he never noticed before, when he was a minister. Now of course, after he’s been released, he doesn’t notice the birds anymore, just as beforehand. In the same way you won’t notice Moscow when you actually live there.” — Vershinin in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters.