The Gamboge Bird

March 10, 2017
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Everyone needs somewhere they can go to get away from life and be by themselves for  a while. For me this place is Mortar Rock. Whenever I feel depressed, hopeless, or anxious, I know that I need to go there. I’ve made the mile long walk from my house countless times. When I get there it's like stepping into another world. It smells like earth and old, wet, stone. The rock is embraced by crooked trees, bending and twisting like dancers. Everything is covered in soft emerald moss. Up close it looks like a carpet of tiny ferns. In some places deep, smooth holes have been filled with rainwater to make tiny ponds like mirrors. The holes belong to the Native Americans who used to live here, grinding acorns in the same place over and over. It's a reminder that the rock was there before I existed and will be there for long after I’m gone, a strangely comforting thought. I walk over to the stone steps chipped in the ancient rock, climbing over boulders and trailing my fingers over the moss and bark of the trees. I can feel the energy of the trees, their life, going into my body through my fingertips and filling me with electricity. I pass by the front of the rock, white with climbers chalk, and worn down in places by the constant dripping of water, which forms tiny pools in the dirt. I climb the steps, and at the top find my usual spot and settle myself on the rock. I lie on a smooth slope near a tree with grey branches. I face the sky. When I lay like this all I see is the clear blue unscarred by power lines. I fall into a dreamlike state, eyes lazily tracing the progress of an airplane or cloud, mind calm. I feel the cold rock underneath me, grounding me and keeping my mind from flying away to join the birds that spiral freely above me. I am completely myself and all the tension drains out of me. In my head snatches of song and old conversation pass through.

This is where I came the evening before I had spinal fusion surgery. The next day I would undergo an 11 hour surgery, during which I would have metal rods and screws inserted into my spine and one of my ribs taken out. It rained the night before so everything was washed clean and magnified. Tears trickled down my cheeks like the rain down the rock, settling in the hollows of my collar bones. I was scared, so scared. I knew my life would be changed for better or worse the next day and it was overwhelming. I felt a restless, panicked energy pumping through my veins. I wanted to run away, but I was paralyzed. All I could do was lay there, my mind going a million ways at once. I don’t know how much time passed before something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. There was a small bird not three feet away from me, the size and shape of a sparrow, but the color of the sun. Its chest was a plain, speckled brown with wings that looked like they had been painted with gamboge, a pure saffron yellow that comes from the resin of the gamboge tree and is used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks. It flitted around the branches of the tree, standing out brilliantly against the dark green foliage and the blue grey ocean hued rock. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I lay there on my back, one arm outstretched, the other hugging my body. The palm of my hand rested skywards as if in prayer. I watched the little gold bird for what could have been minutes or hours. I had never seen a bird like this anywhere, and to see it here when I needed hope more than ever seemed like a sign from the universe that everything was going to be okay. The fact that it was yellow was important to me because yellow symbolizes warmth and happiness. Red roses are for love and yellow are for friendship. I started to cry again, but this time it was from the beauty of the bird and the wonder I had for life. Eventually it flew away leaving me with a peace that I hadn’t felt for a long time. The bird had reminded me what it felt like to really be alive, in a time when all I felt was despair and emptiness. I got up and left Mortar rock, my mind and soul full.

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