For Karen

I was able to take a photo of this fine feathered friend yesterday while exiting my driveway.

I have been partial to birds for some time now, ever since we lived in what urbanists call the “donut hole” of a shared courtyard with many different brownstone buildings adjacent and to the north of us on New York’s Upper West Side. There we had sparrows, robins, towhees, blue jays, mourning doves, the very occasional catbird, pigeons, of course — more politely called rock doves — and even the cardinal.

This morning, the Hill Country mourning doves are in concert. A cacophony that somehow has its sensical cadence and tune. There are virtuosos among the eight or so I hear, and there are of course the back-up singers.

It was Karen, and here in Kerrville, who introduced me in 2005 to Anne Lamott’s seminal book for writers, Bird By Bird. If you don’t know the book, and if you haven’t heard about the naming of the title, here it is: when Anne’s older brother was about ten and had a long report due for school about birds and had had about three months in which to do it, he was sitting at the table frustrated because he had made so little progress. Their father, a writer, sat down next to him and “put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ I tell this story again because it usually makes a dent in the tremendous sense of being overwhelmed that my students experience. Sometimes it actually gives them hope, and hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”

And if Karen has delivered nothing else in my life — and she has delivered quite a bit more — it has been hope.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Karen.

I would say you are the Mother Hen, but that makes you sound too old and round.

I would say you are a peacock, but no peacock I know goes out into public with her oil paints still sticking to her lips, making her look like Queen Amidala. Or maybe that’s exactly what they do.

I would say you are like the mockingbird, so capable of amazing and often hilarious impressions of coworkers, friends and family. Yet, you don’t “mock” so much as bring out the hidden and wondrous truth of others, showing yourself a sincere friend to so many.

I would say you are a female of many different species, and this is closer to the truth, because typically the females are less preening and not so self-conscious of their looks, for which I can’t understand any real value other than to be painted into forgetful paintings of Mallard Ducks in gold frames that hang on the walls of Republican politicians’ offices.

No. You are closer to the American Bald Eagle. The female and male look alike, but surprisingly the female is a third larger in size. Before you come after me with a jagged paintbrush for this comparison, consider the metaphor of being the one who carries more weight. You are like the eagle I saw a few summers ago at Lake Champion. She flew from the tree line across that small body of water. As she neared my side of the shoreline, she did a 180° arc like a plane expertly piloted and approaching a landing strip and started to descend toward the surface of the water. Effortlessly — but not without the benefit of years of practice — and still riding on the strength of the first beat of her powerful wings, she swooped down to the glassy surface and with her talons grabbed a fish with nary a splash. As I watched, it was both violent and beautiful. The word “ineffable” comes close. Then, with another beat or two, she rose gracefully and guided herself back into the tree line to a nest filled with her waiting offspring.

Happy Mother’s Day.

You have fed us all well. You have protected the nest and been the hunter.

You are fierce and beautiful.


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