How Do I Quiet Myself and Listen?

Cynthia Neale

Massabesic Audubon Center

“Yep, that’s my red hair in the blue bird box!”

The hummingbirds have left our backyard and I sadly miss them. I stand at my kitchen window staring at the feeder remembering being thrilled each time, nearly daily, viewing these tiny ruby necklaced birds with hearts beating up to 1260 beats per minute. Suddenly my heart quickens because I think I spy my ruby-throated male diving from the lilac bush to protect his feeder. But I’m wrong. It’s only a few leaves fleeing summer’s end just as the hummingbirds have done. Will I recognize this hummingbird next spring? Will I be standing at this window next spring? I turn away from the window, put on a sweater, and go to the woods. It’s a banner year for mushrooms and when I walk in the woods, I marvel over their texture,  patterns, and colors. I have never seen a purple or blue mushroom and wish I had a child with me to share this magic. Large glowing, milk white, tea-cupped ones surrounding silver birch trees in the gloaming causes me to pause and wonder. As chipmunks, squirrels, and birds skitter in the leaves and in the birch tree, it reminds me of the flurry of activity at a restaurant just before it opens for dinner. And so I imagine that as soon as the sun sets, there will be a wild animal dinner party.

Alas, I wish I had my camera, but I know that when I glimpse these other worlds in the woods, I hardly ever capture them in a photograph the way I see them.  The air is honey crisp and there is a scent of apples, wood-stoves, pine, and pungent decay. Oh my, I check my watch. I have spent so much time at the kitchen window and in the woods and although I have stepped away from the hectic pace of my speaking engagements, caring for an antique house, volunteering in my neighborhood, researching for my next novel, and a myriad of other necessities, my mind has not been quiet. Sometimes, I go to the woods and my mind and body relaxes as if I’ve taken off my uncomfortable go-to-meeting business clothes and donned my pajamas. But mostly, although I am easily entertained and delighted to be in the woods, my mind doesn’t relax, thus my body doesn’t do so, either. My mind creates conversations between birds and animals amidst the background of my Gossip Mongers, the voices that come out of the closets in my mind. When I was a bluebird monitor for our local Audubon Center, I heard two bluebirds chatting one day, along with the Gossip Mongers:

How’s your nest? (Gossip Monger: You haven’t mopped the floors in a month!)

Fine…how’s yours? (GM: No-one will ever buy this old house and we’ll be falling apart together)

Shabby…too many babies spoiled my feathers and straw…and now the mites have taken over. (GM: My cat has so much matted hair and I know it’s going to cost me $200 to get him sedated and groomed!)

Well, to be honest…I threw out two chickadee eggs and felt like a murderer (GM: The authors on the panel had 10 minutes to speak and I was the last one. The author who spoke before me took 20 minutes and I didn’t have any time. I gave him hell afterwards!)

I had a fight with a tree swallow as soon as my chicks were born. I had lovely bluejay feathers and lots of gorgeous red hair from the woman who monitors our nests. This sassy low-life swallow dove right in, grabbed a few feathers, and nearly took all the red hair out of my nest! (GM: I want to be non-judgmental, open hearted, open minded, but some of these women are mean-spirited and I CAN’T STAND THEM! Okay, the hate word came up, but really, the older I get, the less it does…)

Look at the sunset! Just in time for our party! Which mushroom are you sitting at? Let’s sit together. Is it time? Is the mushroom set? Oh, look, acorn hats for cups and bass leaves for plates. I’m pleased to be your friend in these woods. (a good Gossip Monger: My friend, Joanna Rush, comes to practice in my dance room. She is a writer and actor and is currently practicing for her play, ‘Asking For It.’ I say to her, “Look at my sunflowers. They’re hanging their heads, but they’re still beautiful. Let’s not give up! And even if we’re rejected, we can still glow.” And this is so true for us, anyway, because we are both redheads and have enough hair to donate to the bluebird nests.

This is a fairly tame conversation between my animal friends with my mind’s Gossipers hanging in the background. Sometimes the Gossipers can really yell and throw major insults at me, such as, “You’re a mediocre writer!” “Something’s missing!” “Who the hell is going to read a book about that?” And then the Gossipers go away and the Fears gather into a gang and shout that it is the end of the world and such things like that (too personal to relay here).

I visited a healing arts practitioner for the pain in my hip (I thought it was from stomping in Irish set dancing) that I haven’t been able to heal from. She says there is energy blocked and I need balance and although she knows nothing about my books, she is suddenly describing the characters. All the Gossipers and Fears scramble behind closed doors when she says, “You need to be quiet and listen.”

I haven’t said a confounded word! Never opened my mouth! It happened all silently, but noisily in my head. I have managed to distill all those voices over the years into keen listening to Norah and others for my stories. But it’s taken its toll. It’s been fun staying up all night, going to all night parties, dancing all night, and having lots of parties in my head, but I want less activity there now in my older years. I’ll settle for a walk in the woods with just the wild animals from now on. I’ll leave the others at home, or better yet, just get rid of them altogether, except for the good ones. Whew, I feel better already writing this blog.

How public, like a frog to tell your name the livelong day to a un-admiring blog! (paraphrased from an Emily Dickinson poem)

Get away with that phrase! I ban you from staying in my mind! I know I have a few admiring blog readers, at least!

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About cynthianeale

My fourth novel in The Irish Dresser Series, The Irish Milliner, is being released by Fireship Press on June 2, 2017. The third book in the series is 'Norah, The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York,' (Fireship Press)) and two young adult historical fiction novels, 'The Irish Dresser' and 'Hope in New York City.' I have also written plays, essays, and short stories. I am a native of the Finger Lakes region in New York and now reside in New Hampshire. What do I especially enjoy? Reading, writing, Irish set dancing, waltzing, walking, learning about nature, some traveling, Irish sean nos dancing, art classes and painting, baking fanciful desserts, kayaking, growing flowers, creating events for food, dance, and fund raising, laughing until it hurts, and dreaming about possibilities.
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One Response to How Do I Quiet Myself and Listen?

  1. Nancy Kelley says:

    Bravo, Cynthia, how marvelous!

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