Returning home on Monday, imprisoned in a space so small contortion was required to fit my body into it, breathing air both stale and sterile, and working to share the narrow armrest with my sleeping neighbor, I escaped into the memory of the day before. A day full of everything missing from the airplane.
When Suzy picked me up on our second bright and sunny morning, she handed me a packet with the most wonderful grin on her face. It was directions to and promotion for the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Newport, Rhode Island. I looked a question at her.
"You said you like birds, right? And we were going to Rhode Island anyway, so I found this online."
It took some mental searching before I remembered I'd been commenting on the Red-tailed Hawks that patrol the sides of the highways, just like home, only the east coast birds are a lot lighter. I'd done it often enough to prompt Suzy to ask if I liked birds. Because of the stereotypes surrounding bird watchers, I don't often tell people that I own enough bird guides to fill an entire shelf on my bookcase, that I always look and listen for birds in hopes of discovering one new to me, that one of my favorite places in the world is the refuge near our home where we see some new avian delight every single time we visit.
We filled the travel time with a continuation of the conversation that hadn't stopped from the minute I first got in Suzy's car at the airport. We got lost and didn't care. We laughed at ourselves, saw some amazing old homes, a lot of Rhode Island, and eventually drove across the long bridge from the mainland to Newport.
Suzy is a city girl with no real interest in birds or the outdoors. She really wanted me to have this experience (and I really wanted to have it), and she really wanted to not have it with me. An interesting test of a fairly new friendship. She had phone calls to make and a book to read and maybe a nap to take and promised all three were exactly what she wanted. And so I trusted her, accepted the gift, and walked into the sanctuary alone.
The sun shone. Colors vibrated. Song birds chattered in the brush. The wind played hide and seek. Each new turn in the trail I followed to a place called Hanging Rock so I could see the Atlantic offered some new visual delight. Bright berries against blue sky. A deer's presence revealed by the rustle of leaves under foot. The trail beneath my feet first grass, then gravel, then dirt, then boardwalk, then stone called puddingrock. I found myself scrambling along a ridge of both rounded and sheared rock, wondering if it was really a trail at all, until the end which revealed a glorious view of the ocean.
Not many birds. Wrong time of year. Some mallards. A sparrow or two. Chickadees. One hawk.
I didn't care. As I walked back, thrilled at the perfection of each step of my adventure, I breathed in air that held hints of sea and oak and rich earth, savoring and storing away. I was almost back to the entrance when a flash of red caught my eye. I sought its source in the berry bush just off the trail and laughed out loud when I realized it was a cardinal.
Cardinals don't exist on the west coast. I saw my first one last summer in Iowa, but didn't have the opportunity then to just be with these bright red wonders. On this day, I stood for the longest time, just watching a pair feed and flit. When I finally turned to go, another flew directly in front of my face. A little farther along, I'd stopped to take pictures of the stone fence, one last shot of beauty, when I saw one more cardinal perched on blackberry brambles in the sunshine like a king overseeing his realm.
I don't think it's ever failed me. I find what I'm looking for, eventually, even when I'm not exactly clear what that might be. Adventure always. Beauty. Gift after gift of magic and wonder. The love and generosity of fellow travelers. Fun. One new bird.
In the days since my return, there has been a bend in my path that could make me doubt all of it. But I can close my eyes and be in that sanctuary and feel the presence that promises wings and lift and sky to soar into. I believe. A friend asked me last week what I thought the trip meant. And without hesitation I replied that it was irrefutable evidence that I'm held and led and loved, even when the path becomes rocky and seems to be going in the wrong direction. All I have to do is remember one bright bird, one amazing friend, and four magical days.
|Taken by our server at the French restaurant where we celebrated our last night together and where we were treated like royalty.|