You enter by the unlocked side door, and see her there on the couch. She is expecting you and the fruit bread you carry. She does not rise to greet you; it’s an effort for her. You hug and cheek kiss, offer to take the bread to the kitchen. It is 1:30 p.m. and she has already eaten lunch, she says.
You sit near her, examine her closely. Her face has thinned, she is a little pale, but her eyes are clear and bright. You comment on how good she looks. She says her son has just said the same thing. The conversation follows its usual path: catch-up on husbands and children and grandchildren, birthdays and Mother’s Day with (and without) children. There is no judgement on anything that is said. Or felt.
There are pauses in the conversation, but it doesn’t matter. Before long she expresses the desire to go outside to sit for a while. She can make it with a walker. Your only worry is that she will be cold. The sun is out, the sky is clear, but there is a breeze. You tell her all of that and then help her on with her woolen poncho.
She makes her way with her walker through the kitchen to the door leading to the yard. While she is doing that, you retrieve a metal folding chair that is leaning on the outside of the house, then set it up out by the picnic table. You help her down the stone steps, settle her into the metal chair and turn her walker into a footstool. You have to go back inside to get the navy pillows to support her back and legs. She looks fairly comfortable. There is nowhere for you to sit.
You remember seeing an old metal step stool by the back of the house. You imagine it is used to reach high-growing lilacs or later in the season, raspberries. You retrieve it, place it next to her chair, and sit. The air is clean and cool and you both sit in dappled sunlight under the hemlock. It is next to the twisted catalpa tree. You pick up one of the spent pods and say aloud what it might be like to soak and weave those pods. She points out the herb and lettuce garden her husband planted by the back door. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. You say it is her Simon and Garfunkel garden. She smiles.
There is a lot to observe and you do it mostly in silence. Before long she asks if maybe you are bored (you are not) and if you maybe want to go get your book. Funny, you say, you have no desire to read. You were just thinking about how you once kept a field journal, went out into the yard each day at the same time and recorded in sketches and words what you saw. Remarkably, you tracked some very subtle changes in the environment. You tell her that, acknowledging that there is so much to wonder about and behold. She knows that instinctively. You first knew it from reading Emily Dickinson, a master of observation.
Suddenly, you are alerted by the buzzing of bees. That seems out of synch as it is quite early (and cool) for bees, but you hear it nevertheless. But before you have time to remark upon it, you know that it is not bees at all, but rather a hummingbird, incessantly flapping its tiny wings, flying among the hemlock branches. You see it as does she. You both wait in anticipation for him to find the feeder she has placed by the kitchen door. She made the nectar herself (one cup sugar to four cups water she says, no red dye, she emphasizes). The feeder hangs from a large pot of red and orange “million bells.”
You question whether she heard the buzzing/flapping sound but she says no, and then you remember she is due to be fitted for hearing aids the next day, or is it the day after. It doesn’t matter. You both see the tiny creature, and when she whispers there it is, there is delight in her voice, and a deep satisfaction seems to come over her. You ask at one point how big she thinks a hummingbird egg is. She indicates with her fingers she thinks it is about the size of a navy bean. You make a mental note to look it up later. You stay awhile, watching the ruby-throats come and go. You don’t talk as the experience is saying it all.
Before long, she grows tired, indicates she wants to go in. You help her get her feet back on the ground. You note her ankles are swollen; this is something new. As you help her navigate the stone path and steps, she asks you to leave the folding chair where it is, facing the hummingbird feeder. You decide to leave the step stool there, as well, a silent invitation to witness small miracles.