In memory, uncommon events, often the humblest, turn into private mythology. Seated alone at our kitchen table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., some ten years ago, I stared idly through the sliding glass doors and across the deck into the wild cherry trees bordering the rear of our property. From the left entered a flash of unnatural blue, settling among the bobbing branches. The mind takes its time. I thought first of shimmering fabric, a silk scarf, before the analytical powers kicked in: an indigo bunting, perhaps the third or fourth I had ever seen. In seconds it fled.
I questioned the reality of what I had just seen, like the witness to a crime (or miracle) who doubts the evidence of his eyes. It was not only the bird’s unlikely beauty that made its abrupt appearance feel unreal, but its sense of prepared unexpectedness. I wasn’t looking for it but it arrived and I felt ready to see it. I felt like a theatergoer who discovers the play he expected has been scrapped for another, and is pleased. John Ciardi’s “Bird Watching”:
“Every time we put crumbs out and sunflower
seeds something comes. Most often sparrows.
Frequently a jay. Now and then a junco or
a cardinal. And once – immediately and never
again, but as commonly as any miracle while
it is happening, and then instantly incredible for-
ever – the tiniest (was it?) yellow warbler
as nearly as I could thumb through the bird
book for it, or was it an escaped canary? Or
simply the one impossible bright bird that is
always there during a miracle, and then never?
“I, certainly, do not know all that comes to us
at times. A bird is a bird as long as it is
there. Then it is a miracle our crumbs and
sunflower seeds caught and let go. Is there
a book to look through for the identity
of a miracle? No bird that is there is
miracle enough. Every bird that has been is
entirely one. And if some miracles are rarer
than others, every incredible bird has crumbs
and seeds in common with every other. Let there
be bread and seeds in time: all else will follow.”
Ciardi suggests the uncanny, ineffable and wonderful arrive unbidden. We can prepare ourselves, live and look and think in such a way – “Let there / be bread and seeds in time” – as to ready us for the miracle, the yellow warbler, the indigo bunting, but such things don’t arrive on demand.