As I sit here in winter, longing for the first pecan tree buds, the first signs of spring, there remains a sense of grim anticipation.
There was, my grandmother wrote, a little bird named kich. It would visit the Chitimacha people and speak to them. They could understand it and speak in return. It would warn of danger, foretell visitors, enemies, even death. A mottled-brown bird, something like a wren most likely, kich was a springtime companion to my grandmother in the seven decades she lived in that old house on the reservation.
It came to me, too. It would perch in the century-old fig tree in the back yard every spring and, somehow, amid all the sounds of all the birds of spring, my soul would tune to its call, pick it out from the noisy fray. I tried to understand it but failed. Yet I spent time each day when it was there, when it called, and stood outside near the fig tree. Just to let it know that someone still believed. I used to think perhaps we shared memories of that old woman who for seven decades was its sole companion, itís only confidant and solitary believer.
But the fig tree died two years ago and I feared kich would not return. I had started a cutting from that tree the year before over in the front yard, by the driveway, and sure enough, kich came and spoke to me that next spring from the waist-high prodigy of the old fig tree I had lost.
Yet last spring kich did not come. I waited, listened for it, but from the din of springtime arrivals in the oaks and pecans and hackberries in the yard, I never felt the nudge of its call against my bones, the touch of it on my perceptions. I began to feel I had lost it, had failed it somehow, lost my way like Rabbit, and would carry the mark of my failure as a split lip for the rest of my days.
Itís the absences that hurt most. It wasnít until late in the year that I realized what had happened. Why that empty spot in my spirit was gnawing so coldly. It was in my grandmotherís writings, but somehow, in the push and shove of a world grown too busy, too immeasurable and too greedy for kich, I had forgotten it. I had also forgotten the morning she explained it all to me, long before the book, standing in the yard and watching the skies.
"If there will be a flood," she said to me when I was a boy, "kich will circle in the skies as if afraid to come down, and make no sound."
Itís the absences that hurt. Those that are most painful are the absences within myself.
There were certainly floods between last spring and this, and I wonder now, if I had thought to look skyward might I have seen kich circling above, a speck of mottled-brown legacy, silent warnings on wing? Now another spring nears, and I am dread-filled as well as eager.
As I make my way through a life passing day to day downstream, I am more and more aware of the empty spaces. The things that have been there for thousands of years, though I have only existed for a fraction of a moment. The last year hardened me, somehow, put calluses on my feet and I never realized I could not feel my ancestors reach up through the ground and with their fingertips touch the soles of my feet, until now. Caught up in sudden movements of unexpected attention over these writings, I flung myself headlong into the opportunities that presented themselves and, along the way, the nerve-endings of my spirit withered.
Will the little bird perch in my fig tree this year and sing to me? Or will I see it hover in the skies and know that the waters will come again? Worst of all, will it neither perch nor circle, having now vanished, gone the way of memory like so many other treasures in my life. I had come to believe that my grandfather and his brothers fled the reservation all those lifetimes ago in search of opportunity and freedom from oppression. I had also come to know that he alone returned from Ft. Worth to carry a fire into the future, that my father was born in that same distant city but in time found his way here to spend the rest of his days for the same reason. There was a time when I shook the dust of the reservation from my own heels, but eventually returned. I liked to think there was a reason for that, too, even if it was only to wait and to listen to mottled-brown birds in fig trees.
I have rubbed the calluses from my feet with pumice and revived the nerve endings of my soul with reverence. In two or three months, Iíll be awaiting the familiar call of its return. Itís odd, I know, to speak of such things in a world shrouded by noise, insulated by fumes and frantic scurrying and the battering of obligations and requirements. Itís strange, I know, to speak of tiny brown birds and long-cold fires. But in my soul, these things leave great holes of darkness if I forget them or fail them.
Spring will come. It always does. What it brings in tow remains to be discovered.