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Cycles of Life & Death & Change

I’ve been living with small, black capped coal tits as noisy upstairs neighbors, making their lives in the arches of brick colored roof tiles, and a family of swallows that has trustfully built their home above my door. I feel kindred to them, having watched the nest form, the two birds waiting patiently, swooping in and out. One day, small but mighty ‘feed me’ chirps, followed by a month or two of cleaning the poop from my doorstep, and then finally, I watched the newborns drop out of the nest.

A few months ago, I found a small speckled eggs on the

path in front of my hut, and a few steps further, a lifeless small naked chick. I had stories about what could have happened, but it didn’t matter. I placed the chick on a pile of rose petals from a bush nearby under the olive tree in front of our home, and the egg on my altar. Later that day, as I was coming back from somewhere, I noticed a long rat snake at the gravesite, picking the small being up in its mouth.

The next day, I was about to get on my bike, and I noticed the intact skeleton of one of my roof neighbors on the ground. I almost stepped on it. The skeleton found its place next to the small speckled egg on my altar.

An egg, a dead hatchling... eaten by a snake, and a bird skeleton, all in one day.

A few months later, I am changing places again and saying goodbye to my place at the shore of a small lake, in a wooden hut, in the middle of the Alentejo in Portugal. The last thing I do is disassemble my altar, and I place the skeleton and egg at the base of the olive tree in front of our home. I think of the young ones that I saw fly for the first time, how this one didn’t make it, and the daily movements of the one that made it all the way to being bones.

I think about the stages of life of these winged ones, how graceful they are in their being-ness, their humor, their sounds, how they play with the wind, the trees, and the ground. The little footsteps of the birds settling down for the night as I do, feeling in rhythm with my wider community. I wonder if I would be so tolerant of humans if they were so noisy above me… Maybe someday I will be as charmed by human neighbors as these little friends. I move the dried and dusty rose petals aside, and place the egg and skeleton underneath them, grateful for being shown this cycle of life.

A few hours later, after moving my suitcases, I approach the door to say a parting prayer for this beautiful nest of mine, and I am startled by a dead bird exactly where I step to enter inside.

It isn’t the familiar swallow or one of the coal tits, but a relative unfamiliar to me with a long-ish black beak, grey/blue feathers, and a white belly.

As I hold it in my hands for a long time, stroking its feathers and noticing its colors, I am replaying what I did earlier… asking myself “What was it to lay down an egg and a skeleton of my neighbor’s, on the day that I am moving, then to have to lay down another winged one the day I move from this place?”

Can it just be coincidence or is there something more for me to know, or ask, or do, or notice?

Finally, I place this new neighbor on top of freshly picked rose petals, on top of dried dusty ones, on top of the lifeless forms of bird that once lived in someway, underneath the olive tree, and I grieved but I also felt grateful. I was grateful that home felt like watching the beings around you grow and being there when they die, that I had come to love them. And I grieved that I had to leave when I was finally starting to feel settled, that I was leaving another home I had come to love. I wonder if the birds grieved when they migrate... if humans were ever meant to settle.

I was grateful for being trusted by these beings that I could see their lives play out in all different stages. Gratitude that I was being shown that even when I am in one place, I will still change forms many times, like the one who was the skeleton. Gratitude that I learned that there might be the potential of life in me, like the egg, that may never be realized, and that I must also grieve that.

Gratitude that I am reminded that I can drop dead even in mid-flight, joyously wandering through my daily life, and that knowing it, won’t stop me from flying.





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