after i gave birth to fern, my experience with breastfeeding, despite how normal and effortless one would think it to be, was actually fraught with difficulty. all the hows and whys are not the story i want to tell today, but part of the reason was the hand-me-down lackluster pump i was using. fern’s latch was so painful that in order to give my poor nipples a rest, i would pump in the evening and during the night, and jeff, bless his heart, would feed her with a syringe. but pumping is tricky, and my mammaries, being the smart gals that they are, were not fooled for a second. milk let down just wasn’t happening. the trick to this, we are told, is to “get in the mood”. “imagine your baby, imagine a peaceful island shore, imagine rivers flowing”. none of this worked, and i would sit with a face screwed up in zen concentration for session after session.
it was deepening into fall by this time, but one morning as i sat pumping, i heard a sound outside our window. a high pitched song, threaded into a needle that sewed my heart back together, that then unfolded into feathered hands, brushing soft across my shoulders, leaving apple blossoms in their wake. a warmth ran down my spine, and then milk ran down into the bottles. the male house finch outside sang a mating call, a song i had not heard since the spring, and i don’t know why he was singing it then. but it was this song that i used to help my milk release from then on. closing my eyes, i let its chorus run in my veins, remembering spring, letting it lift my heart.
i had a post all written up in my head today, about the geyser of oil in the gulf of mexico. about the millions of animals it will impact, or kill. about the species it will wipe out. about the marsh lands that, for all intensive purposes, just became a paved over strip mall lot. about the eyes and lungs and gills and pores that are saturated in black gold, just like the surrounding sands. i wanted to write out a list of all the thousands of species of birds that overwinter in the gulf of mexico, or use it as a stopping point on their 18,000 mile migration. about how they will arrive to their destination this fall, exhausted, starving, and find that their home is…gone. and what will they do? about the mother birds who will arrive in the gulf to have their young, and find that their nesting spots are uninhabitable. what will they do? about the seaside sparrow who’s niche habitat are the salt marshes that surround the gulf. if the marshes are decimated, this species will just quietly vanish. i was going to write about the grief that feels like weeping for the murdered. about how i feel backed into a corner with a gun at my heart, forced to cry for pointless, senseless greed, knowing that once this tragedy has worked its way through my psyche, there will probably be another around the corner. and that i must let the grief run its course, so that i can stay awake and alive and grateful and vibrant because the only other choice is to shut down and turn away and tell my soul that it can no longer walk in this world. i was going to write all this, eloquently, with devastating beauty, hoping to penetrate the groggy denial we all must be in to allow these events to happen and happen and happen. but i can’t. i feel too messy and lost and hopeless. fortunately, my friend america kept her wits about her, and has written a post of her own, with a bestiary list that reads like the roll call of war. it’s beautiful, and worth your readership.
as i sit here writing this, i can look out a window to my left, at the cherry tree in the garden. i see the begging flutter of fluffy wings, and watch as a mother finch gives her fledgling some of the seed i set out for them each morning. this morning, i woke before the rest of the family and saw in my minds eye each individual song bird that will take its long and dangerous journey across the ocean, counting on good weather and low winds, to finally land on the shores outside the gulf. each bird in a flock an individual, with a desire for life, with preferences, emotions, intelligence and the capacity for love. tears turned into sobs. and then fern awoke, looking up at me as i blew my nose. her face was full of glee and her eyes full of mirth. together we celebrated the weight of a human heart, born during this time on earth. i don’t want to live in a world without songbirds and i want my daughter’s world to have the same biological diversity that mine did as a child.
i can’t prove to you why this is all so important. why a transition off of, and away from, fossil fuels will be worth the small pangs of change. why birdsong is lighter than air and heavier than gold. but i will continue to try, for all of our sakes. and this morning i can tell you that the sun is warming up the soil, and the homely sparrows and finches outside my front door are calling for their food, their mates, their young. i will push my hands into rich earth and plant my tomatoes, breastfeed my daughter, clean my home, walk my dog, love my partner. and try, desperately, to find rest in my broken heart and hope that when tomorrow comes there will be enough birdsong left to stitch it back together.
seaside sparrow (photo by eric soehren)