I am visiting family in Washington. It is not family by blood. It is my partner’s family. I want to be accepted, so I try to play it cool, say the right things, impress upon everyone that I am likable.
What is this need to be liked? I think it is less a desire to be liked than a fear of being rejected. I was never deemed “cool” until I stopped trying to be thus.
I admire this family. I can see their resemblances, facial features, especially their eyes. I hear resemblance in their voice and inflection, gesticulations, laughter. I like seeing one person appear in the face of another. It is remarkable, really. I suppose others may see this in my own family, but I am far too close to find it myself.
We are arguing over things of consequence. I find it maddening, so I focus on my surroundings. We have traveled north, from Edmonds to Camano Island. There is sunlight in the distance. It sheds light on the snowy conifers that line the foothills of the Cascades.
Is that Whitehorse I see above Darrington? I try not to think about them. It is too painful. In my memory, I am sad and raw, and always cold.
I am cranky and growling with each slippery step. We are crossing a river of beached logs, the remnants of once mighty trees. They are beautiful, but I cannot spend the time to admire them because I am worried my foot will land just so on a dampened trunk, my leg will twist, and I will tear an ACL tendon. I have been down the path of tendon reconstruction, and I do not desire to trod this path again. Ever.
It is slow and irritable going. But I get there.
Marieke, what is that? A familiar voice.
Is that a sandpiper?
It is a call for a bird identification.
My hands are full of smooth, round rocks and covered in dark sand.
I try to hold binoculars steady with my right hand and look through to the small bird just off the shore.
It is standing in the water.
That’s odd, I think. I am unaccustomed to seeing shorebirds alone and in water up to their bellies
I watched it through my binoculars. It seemed stocky. Likely a Dunlin. But what was it doing all alone? I rarely see them alone like this. Dunlin flock by the thousands and it is for the patient birder to find the single shorebird species that is different from the rest.
It let me walk out to the water’s edge before beginning to swim to my right in an invisible, parallel line with the shore.
That’s even more bizarre. Something was not right.
I have never seen a shorebird swim like that, I called out.
We agreed that there was something amiss with this tiny being.
I uttered a whispered wish of wellbeing out to the small bird. We walked on. Over sand and slippery tree trunks.
Let’s try walking over the land to the trail and back. Soggy, marshy field. A slough to our right. Another smaller slough put an end to our foray. Back over slippery log to the beach.
Great blue heron flap and glide over the water.
I look for the shorebird. I want it to live, though I know that a singular bird such as this may not be destined for this world for much longer.
Perhaps, he is simply lost and needs time to hide from predators until he can be reunited with fellow mates. For a shorebird, I imagine that safety from predators involves anonymity in a crowd.
Finally, I find the bird, crouched behind a large rock and driftwood. Relieved, I console myself with the story that it is indeed simply hiding.
Later, my partner says he thinks the bird was eaten by the Great blue heron we saw on the shore.
You are probably right, I respond, but something does not feel right.
Wait, non. I respond. How have I forgotten that I found the bird, still alive?
It was still alive. I saw it. I describe its location. I see it in mind, standing in the cold water of Puget Sound.
I see it still as I type. I am cold, but not as cold as I could be were my circumstances not what they are.
I want for it to survive. As much as I know about the world, I still cannot accept that death is part of life.
Is it because I see myself in this bird? Wanting to make it on my own, but feeling cold and alone and uncertain of myself?
Knowing that I will never witness its fate, I make a silent wish in my heart for this bird.
I am the bird. I am the cold water. I am the smooth, round rocks in my pocket. I am cold hands and silt-covered shoes. I am a part of all things. I am not alone.