[36] Chirps from the Sparrow, And so it Goes…, Diane Smith

A literary correspondent wrote recently wondering if I was still alive. I wasn’t sure, but told him, I thought so. Twenty twenty is proving to be a curious year for me as well as the rest of the world. I’m sending a few chirps as I haven’t written any recently. A spindling blow by blow follows for the last eight months [well, yes, a gross exaggeration as I’m only five foot two and I won’t be too detailed. The crowd is cheering.]

I was bringing Christmas oranges to my Tucson neighbors picked from our tree last December in 2019.  For my family, this holiday is often marked as the beginning of the New Year. We had a sweet, juicy, and abundant crop.

A few thoughts went through my mind as I tried to open our neighbors’ gate. It was locked. Hmmm, Where was the doorbell? Where should I leave the Christmas stocking full of fruit? On a ledge? [An aside, I’d never visited their home nor had I called them in advance.] We’ve lived here for the last three years during the winter months. I often waved and chatted.  Then, I turned around.

I noticed a twitch of an ear…and it wasn’t mine. Then, the other ear twitched—twitchy ears attached to a puma, right over the wrought iron fence, basking in the sun. This is what I get for bad manners, even though my intent was good, a puma sighting and not in the distance, yes, right next to me.

Thoughts flooded my thinking, not the kind I mark neatly as my clean sheets of daily duties…wild beasts of thoughts flew chaotically in the light winter breeze. Why did our neighbors keep a live puma in their front yard? Oh, that’s why the gate was locked, to keep it away from the neighbors. [Silly me: an Arizona naturalist explained to me later, pumas can jump 20 feet in the air…straight up, that fence was no barricade to the larger neighborhood.] Then, I thought, Hmmm, maybe I could ruffle its fur on the back of its neck. The puma looked sweet and soft, perhaps an adolescent. Now this is a touch of nano-crazy. I thought it might be a pet.

Then, ah, well then, I realized danger was sitting five feet from me…a wild puma, watching me. And of course my neighbors would not keep a live puma as a pet. They do have a statue of a puma. My puma had golden eyes and ears that twitched. It was large. Theirs had azure aqua eyes and a clay face with no whiskers, permanently fixed by their side wall.

I looked him in the eye as I wanted to watch him if he made a sudden move.

We had a Morse code discussion with lots of eye blinking.

Mr. Puma’s first communication translated to, “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

I blinked back, “I’m a tough, desert buzzard and not very tasty.”

He blinked a few more times, never averting his gaze, responding, “I’m not sure it matters. I have big, sharp teeth.”

This was destiny, this close encounter of a third kind or is that weird kind as one neighbor mentioned later who saw the same puma from a few blocks away. I was in danger, like rattlesnakes slithering past my feet, Gila monsters waddling through the yard or a black widow spider weaving its snare in my closet of clothes. And to think I used to be scared of the prickly pear as I was frequently stuck with its spines while weeding.

I learned from our Arizona nature center, pumas observe living meals and usually remain undetected by their dinner until they’re ready to eat.

Yes, it’s true, I’m a greenhorn, but that puma was an omen for what was to come next…a wildfire.

The Bighorn flew through Esperera, Ventana, and Sabino Canyon within three miles of our home. It burned close to 120 thousand acres of wilderness. I watched the blaze dance with the diurnal winds through the Santa Catalina mountains for several weeks.

Did I mentioned the rattlesnake in the garden taking a peaceful nap under the tomato plants? Can’t hurt to mention rattlesnakes twice.

I live in the Wild West. Civilization is an illusion—creatures with hard shells and ornery dispositions own this land. Wind, Earth, Fire, and Water shake the mountains. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and it’s true. Water is a rare and precious commodity in the desert. That said, water floods areas during the monsoons, takes lives, and destroys homes, particularly after fires as the burnt and blackened ground can no longer absorb it.

Within one month of escaping death as a puma dinner and a fried greenhorn in the Bighorn fire, another killer emerged; one that took 150,000 American lives in a few fleeting months; COVID-19. Fifty million Americans filed for unemployment since the virus landed on our soil as Nero played his violin. Then another tragedy hit, the death of George Floyd, from my hometown.  Floyd was viciously killed in broad daylight by a peace officer. I saw my city in flames on national television.

All of these elements of nature, of life—and death have come to me in a visceral sense with Grey Sparrow’s summer issue.  Once again, our authors illuminate our world. We’re featuring new poets beginning their careers, and others who have written for decades.

Unless a puma eats me, fire consumes me, COVID-19 infects and kills me, or I perish in a peaceful protest, I will stand in 106 F. in Tucson for Black Lives Matter—and continue to publish. There are so many brilliant poets, photographers, and artists who have come to Grey Sparrow over the years. Thank you again, for the gift of words.  Stay well, Stay safe is now the mantra for the year…and keep writing.

—Diane Smith

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