Rooted Vagabond

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“Pass Christian Heron” 15x 30, oil on canvas. Available

She’s not here anymore but oh, when she was.

We planted twenty eight pots of bamboo in the hope and firm belief that it will grow tall and wild, a large sprawling green fence between our backyard and the train tracks. Yesterday I took a nap on the porch and when the train came, my whole body shook. Half asleep, I imagined I was on a boat and it was rocking, not dangerously, but decidedly. The water so sure of itself. 

We had to move bamboo number one over to the twenty eighth spot when they put up the fence in the front of the house because it was in the way. That’s where I stood. Right on number twenty eight to watch her. Put my elbows up on the chain link we hope will be overtaken by the bamboo one day. Her webbed feet on the tracks, probably shaped a little by them, she’s stood there so many times, maybe waiting for a certain train, one that doesn’t seem to come. She’s a stationary traveller. A rooted vagabond.

She let me watch her for a while. Turned her head a few times so I could see all those glorious angles of her neck and beak. A few times she turned right toward me so that her face became just one narrow line, like a train coming, head on, but far in the distance. Still safe. The dog, who protects us from her own reflection in the window at dusk, didn’t even notice her. She stood with me by bamboo twenty-eight but oblivious, unconcerned. Unmoved. Unchanged. 

I wondered how I might go about leaving some treat for her– a piece of fish perhaps?– when I realized this relationship, unlike so many of my others, was not about providing for or showing off. This wasn’t about what she needs from me. “I see you” is exactly enough. I know she sees me too. Not my talent, not my lack of talent, not how worried I am most of the time. She sees some form, possibly but probably not a threat, still as she is, just moving my head and maybe a leg every now and then. She cares as little for the dog as the dog does for her, though I know she sees her. All her contemplation takes place in the moment. No journal or painting to run off to. The moment is the art. The fear and the beauty wrapped up into just that encounter. She is all now, and I, all past and future, ask her to plant my feet right in bamboo slot number twenty eight where gnats graze my ankles and a mosquito feasts on my calf. 

I left her only to get something– a sketchbook, my computer, maybe both. Something by which I could document her either with some silly words or imperfect lines. From the corner of my eye I saw her fly away, down the tracks and out of sight. 

I’ll look for her again tomorrow while the bamboo is still low enough not to impede my view. I don’t know if she’ll remember me, our minutes of just gazing. We might just start again. I might see if I can find, once more, the present moment in the feathers on her belly– the ones I watched flutter a little in the breeze.

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

May 4, 2021

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3 Responses

  1. That paragraph on relationships hit me profoundly. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with wanting to just be and not be thought of in terms of what I can give, how I might respond, etc. Thank you for articulating it, both in words and oil (I think?).

    1. It really was interesting– my first thought being “how can I provide something” and then realizing that maybe that shouldn’t always, in every situation, be my first thought.

      Thanks for responding, Greg. It is indeed oil. I hope you find some “just be” today.

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