No Matter How Small

By  |  April 5, 2018
Photo by Glen Carrie | @glenncarrie on Unsplash Photo by Glen Carrie | @glenncarrie on Unsplash

The Glimmering Hush


 

One afternoon before I left on my Whiskey & Ribbons book tour, I was feeling stressed and anxious and went for a long walk with my husband. I make a point of walking outside every day, no matter the weather. My anxiety, my body, my blood pressure, my blood sugar, my heart, my entire being responds well to walking every day and breathing clean, fresh air under the open sky. My anxiety was generally specific—my book was coming out soon and I was the busiest I’d ever been since right after I’d had my babies. I’d decided to start calling my walks bird walks. It was cold: winter had peeked its head back in after a couple of weeks of warmish, rainy weather. I impatiently ached for spring, for bright green shoots and sprouts, for dogwood blossoms and forsythia. We walked and walked and like always, I was keeping my eyes and ears open for birds. The Carolina wren was the bird that got me interested in birding, my spark bird. I would see their brown fat-puff roundness in our backyard and wonder what they were, so I looked it up. Hooked. I’m a bird nerd. Everything about birds and birding interests me and creates in me a sense of wonder. Bright flashes of color flying through the sky! Hidden songs coming from the trees! I quickly identified a mockingbird in the branches above us. And it was close, low, singing and calling its tiny bird heart out. I was instantly de-stressed, instantly at ease and felt blessed to be standing so close to the mockingbird at that moment because the song, the calls, the beauty felt like secrets, gifts I shouldn’t ignore.

It cycled through a long repertoire as mockingbirds often do, and I thought of the resplendent book I’d recently finished, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, by Kyo Maclear, in which she relates a discussion she’d had with a musician and fellow birder. She asks, “What is worth singing about? What if the song is too small?” She asks him why birds sing and the fellow birder offers up, “Okay. It’s possible that birds may sing just for the joy of it.” As I was watching and listening to the mockingbird, I was thinking, sing just for the joy of it. No matter how small. Joy! The calls, the songs. Me, a little creature myself, witness to it. It felt good, it calmed me down. I just cannot be stressed while I’m birding. I’m only thinking about the birds. Watching for them, listening for them, paying attention to the tiniest of behaviors, noticing if they’re alone or in pairs or groups, in order to identify them. And I’m always eager to learn more. I downloaded a birding podcast to listen to later as a reminder of that feeling.

The walk back home after that was more relaxed for me. The bird moment had changed my attitude, as happens so often. That’s why I love the little moments of joy, of being and feeling alive. Of stopping to notice things, of quiet. How those things can change my heart and focus in an instant. On another bird walk the day after a book event in Lexington, my husband and I were clomping on wet, sometimes-icy sidewalks surrounded by snow. The dripping snow was loud! Gutters, cars swooshing by. A truck zoomed and rattled down the road next to us. The blast of the revving engine startled me. The snow was melting and falling from the trees. As we neared our normal turn-around spot, I lined my feet up at the edge of the end of the sidewalk like I was always do and a tiny snowflake fell on the tip of my nose—another sweet, small, stop and notice this moment.

After my Louisville book launch, I had tea with two close friends I’ve known for almost twenty years. An easy, relaxing time in the coffee shop next to the bookstore. Afterward, we stood under the cold, white-yellow streetlights, hugging and saying our goodbyes. In Lexington, there was a cozy crowd—the ginormous bookstore buzzing and busy—but such nice noises: the turning of pages and humming chatter, low, glassy clinks from the café.  In Rocky Top, Tennessee, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel, and I was a bit overwhelmed by the lunch noise of the restaurant even though I did love the country and gospel music piping out on the wide front porch dotted with rocking chairs. It was warmer than Kentucky. I’d found spring! The flowering trees were already blooming, a breezy white petal storm blew through the parking lot. When I got to Spartanburg, it was St. Patrick’s Day, with green beer, swarms of green T-shirts. There was a loud band playing in Morgan Square, so we walked down a little closed-off street to the other side, where it was quieter, and watched the sunset. Our hotel was across the street from a brewery and a pub. I didn’t mind the rowdy noise, which is fully expected on a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day. I kept myself from being loud when I squealed watching some March Madness buzzer-beaters. I slept fine without my earplugs. Spartanburg is called “Hub City” because of the trains, because it’s a “hub” for transportation. I lost count of the train whistles I heard during the night, and they’ve always been a comforting sound for me, train whistles. They are a warning, they serve a practical purpose, but also they’re a reminder that the world is still turning, that everything is still going according to plan. A loud train whistle is a necessary big sound. Not small at all. I catalogue these things now because I am writing this, because I want to notice everything. I also keep a detailed list of the new birds I see—where, when, what.

So far, my travels have taken me from Louisville to Lexington, from Lexington back to Louisville, from Louisville through Tennessee and North Carolina to South Carolina. Next, onward to Atlanta and Bowling Green, Little Rock. I am finishing this from my hotel room in Spartanburg. The sun is out, it is morning, and I can see two trains from my window: one is still, one is slowly smoothing through the trees. I hear the whistles. And if I listen hard enough, I can hear the train’s rattly rumbling, too. I am listening to the same Father John Misty and Sturgill Simpson songs I always listen to that feel like home. Leyla McCalla playing her cello and singing, “Wake up, wake up, little sparrow.” The same songs I listen to in my bedroom and when I’m writing. Dreamy songs with floaty, romantic lyrics like “you left a note in your perfect script ‘stay as long as you want’ and I haven’t left your bed since” and “thoughts turn to a love so kind, just to keep me from losing my mind.” I am thinking of little birds leaving their nests, of birds flying south for winter, returning in spring. All the moments in between—big and loud, quiet and small. Of capturing and holding and noticing. Of the mystery of what comes next.

The Glimmering Hush Playlist: April


“The Glimmering Hush” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By

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Leesa Cross-Smith has been a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She is the author of Every Kiss a War and the novel Whiskey & Ribbons. She lives and writes in Kentucky.