February 15, 2021

I came downstairs this morning to find that the bird feeder had fallen over. It’s a pretty blue house-shaped box that we use primarily to attract bluebirds, but other visitors come as well. Ordinarily it hangs from a pole that’s anchored by some substance that fills some kind of bucket or planter base. After Ron bought the feeder, he put this apparatus together from found materials that were in the garage. The pole is an authentic Farrah Fawcett Exerstick like the one pictured here. I bought it in about 1992 for $25. (Someone’s offering one that’s new-in-box on eBay for $95, although the original price is less than $50 today.) I was 45 years old then. So was Farrah. I’ll be turning 74 next month. Farrah’s been gone for a dozen years.

The thing either keeled over in the wind or wobbled and fell when a too-large bird banged against it. I looked out on the porch for bear tracks, but saw only the feeder on its side, the mealworms it had contained spread about.

I left the resurrecting of it for Ron, who had not yet resurrected himself. We’ve both been sleeping later as this quarantine year has gone on, especially in the icy weather (below freezing even at 8:30 for ten days now) and gray fog that has chilled our bodies and dampened our spirits.

I like containers, both real and metaphorical. I wrote the day and date in my journal after I’d poured my coffee, and then noted, “Today is not Bread Loaf deadline day.” In any “normal” year, I’d be putting the finishing touches on my annual application to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (“applicants are strongly encouraged to apply early” is advice that I routinely ignore). It’s a marker for me, the closing of one container, application season, and the opening of another, a different focus, maybe some time off writing to read more.

For the second year in a row, Bread Loaf has decided against trying to mount the traditional ten-day in-person conference, 200 writers and attendant faculty, staff, and guests. So have all the other writers’ gatherings I have counted on to fill my summer days and give me joy in the pursuit of my craft. Aside from my inability to see my grandsons regularly, the cancelling of these events has been the hardest loss I have sustained in this year of constant losses. That it’s a loss for everyone rather than a rejection (“we don’t want anyone here because it’s too dangerous” vs. “we don’t want you here this year because your work is not up to par”) is something of a comfort.

So what’s my next container? Lent, of course. Today is the penultimate day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Last year we had the traditional evening service with the imposition of ashes (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”), one Sunday’s Lenten liturgy, and, I think, one midweek service before the governor announced shutdown, lockdown, quarantine, isolation. Members of my congregation’s choir decided to keep practicing for Holy Week, because surely this will be all over by then (six weeks).

It wasn’t, and it still is not. We’ve adapted with inventive uses of pre-recorded YouTube videos, Zoom meetings of our governing and fellowship groups, even “parking lot church” broadcast over our car radios and including the distribution of a sealed Communion kit that looks like a coffee creamer full of grape juice (so be careful how you open it) with a small square of some wafer-like substance sealed on top. (We usually commune with leavened bread in our hand and a sip from a common cup.) On Wednesday we’ll have imposition of ashes via a long-handled cotton swab extended through our car windows.

The writing I have been doing for several months now is a nonfiction project called “Once More To . . . ” a series of essays about returning to places that hold memory for me, but for one reason or another I can’t really return to because they’re not there anymore, or are off limits, or have been repurposed for activities that have obliterated any connection I recognize. The pieces will be part of the next round of applications I make to the workshops and conferences that have been so much a part of my life.

Unless that can never happen again. I hope I won’t be writing “Once More to Bread Loaf.”