Quiet Depths

No heartbeat. Eight weeks into hope after so many missed opportunities, but now hope takes off and leaves on silent wings, leaving me gasping and empty. The short distance through the gauntlet of women with healthy pregnancies is an unfathomable traverse. Home awaits my weeping.

The pain starts not long after, grips me in bands of shock and sorrow. I welcome the physical pain; without it, the emptiness would have left me baffled and confused. Instead, it became so visceral as I doubled over, groaning and crying and letting go. Pacing the house, letting my body take over, giving birth to death, and after hours of agony, finally opening and releasing. It was not the labor I had anticipated, but it grounded me in the loss I did not want to face.

After my body was emptied and left in peace, I remained immersed in grief, endless days and sleepless nights of hoping this was unreality, that I would doze and wake and find hope on the other side. I did not. Loss remained and followed me into the world. Just as I thought I was healing, I would be caught off guard by the sight of a swollen belly taut with life and I would sink, knees no longer holding me up, grief sweeping me off my feet like quicksand.

A friend tells me my grief is too much, that it was only a cluster of cells, not a baby, that she didn’t understand why it was so hard for me when it happened to so many. How could I show her the joy and hope that had been swept out with the tide, leaving me devastated? How could I help her understand the fathomless depths of absence inside me?

Years later, a virus brings us all to our quiet depths. A year of a world slowed, separated, and joined, choruses silenced, friends adrift, embraces withheld, each in our own small bubble. Loss everywhere, of loved ones and strangers but also of moments and hopes and connections.

This past year, for me, in the emptiness left behind by all the things suspended, the birds that arrived. Or rather, I arrived among the birds. They were always there, but now I dwell consciously among these neighbors; I carefully listen to them each night as I fall asleep and each morning as I wake. I know them as individuals: the great horned owl outside my bedroom window and the one who answers from deeper in the woods; the pair of hummingbirds that are my constant companions as I read on my porch; the red-shouldered hawk who makes the rounds of the neighborhood, greeting all of us down below; the cedar waxwings that fly all about me catching insects over the water as I swim in the river after my run; the wild turkeys on the edge of the field with at least 14 little ones to keep track of. And the raven along the high ridgeline who lifts up as I round the curve, silently winging its secrets into mountains upon mountains.

But it is the swallows most of all that I crave. I pass long stretches of evenings watching them in their dance above the lake. I cannot get enough. Their myriad shapes, graceful, unlikely, shifting in their acrobatics, linger in my head long after.

This is a reprint of work originally published as part of The Selkie Press’s Birds of Firle project.

Amy Boyd is a professor of botany, ecology, and evolutionary biology at Warren Wilson College. Scientist by training, educator by profession, and writer/artist by nature, she lives in Swannanoa, North Carolina, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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