The Whispering World

My wife talks to birds. No, that isn’t quite right. It’s not that she talks to them. They converse. Not in words, like “squawk squawk squawk” equals “how are you doing today?” They converse in the same sense that dancers converse. They show up on the scene, in her life, like punctuation marks, marking significant moments, commenting on events of the day with the gesture of their presence. For example, hawks. Hawks are, more than any other species, her bird. At moments when she is doubting herself, or contemplating a path she is thinking of taking, a hawk will suddenly show up. As if to say, Don’t worry. That question of yours? The answer is, yes. Like this one, who appeared on our roof the other day … Then took off … And flew across our backyard. And it’s not just hawks. Driving into Tampa one day, we had just reached a point in our conversation where we were talking about something vitally important to our future — a sort of “Should we do this or not?” moment — and as we headed onto an access road, a bald eagle burst up from the grasses right beside the ramp and soared straight across our windshield, just feet from our eyes, then took off into the blue. We looked at each other. “I’ll take that as a Yes,” we both said. Ana’s father’s favorite bird was the cardinal. Ever since his passing, in 2006, cardinals keep showing up in our yard. Ana’s mom passed in 2014. Now they show up in pairs. Hey there. You’re not alone. For me, it’s...

Dream On

“What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.” — Lennon and McCartney What is the last thing you think about, just before you drift off to sleep? What is the first thing you think about, when you wake up in the morning? When I was a teenager, I played the cello. I was good, but not great, and while I practiced, I never quite put in the sheer number of practice hours it would have taken to truly excel. However, I had a secret weapon: every night, while lying in the dark and waiting for sleep to overtake me, I would take an especially difficult piece I wanted to learn and play it through, every note perfect, in my head. I did something similar during the day, too. At school, when the teacher would tell us, “Okay, I want everyone to take notes now,” I would interpret that creatively. I’d slip a sheet of music paper out onto my desk, and while the teacher droned on about … whatever … I would bring up a piece of music in my mind, visualizing it (or I should say audializing it) and try to pull the actual notes from the ether of vague memory onto the page, detailing exactly which note followed what, and where, and when. This was great training for the music brain. But nowhere near as powerful as that nighttime drifting-off virtual cello practice. When I lay there in my bed, picturing myself playing that too-difficult piece, the music would embed itself deep in my subconscious and...