Outside the picture window beside my kitchen table, a blue heron lands in my backyard. I am sitting right there when it lands. Graceful, despite its long gangly legs and neck, its six-foot wingspan.
It startles me at first, before I know it is a bird, this dark shadow hurtling toward the house. I imagine a part of something has fallen from the sky. A rotor blade or tail boom, perhaps.
Helicopters have been circling overhead since early morning.
A few blocks from our house, the earth has given way. Newsworthy: A sink hole between two homes has swallowed the driveway and truck of one, along with an entire tree, its trunk, root system and branches, and part of the sidewalk and street.
I turn on the television. Someone from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says sinkholes form when water washes out sediment from an area with carbonate bedrock, which creates a void space and causes a cave-in.
After my divorce twenty years ago, my ex-husband refused to drop our daughters off to my house at the end of his alternate weekends with them. He told me he’d find a meeting point for this drop-off to occur. He would “arc a curve” to find the “midpoint.” He lived farther away back then. We ended up exchanging our two children and their suitcases in the parking lot of a convenience store. Then he changed it to a church.
1. Mathematics The point of a line segment or curvilinear arc that divides it into two parts of the same length.
2. A position midway between two extremes.
According to mathematical calculations, the current midpoint of my home and his home falls exactly in the location of that sinkhole.
I know how that risks a clichéd kind of metaphor.
Failed marriage = massive hole in the earth.
But it happened. Today. Right there. And it happened to have happened just after my ex-husband told our daughter he would not be coming to her wedding.
Does that make it more of a cliché? Less of a cliché?
I don’t know. But it does make the metaphor even more fitting: The formation of sinkholes occurs over time. A gradual erosion. Then, a sudden collapse.
Synchronicity: The arrival of a blue heron in our backyard. A sinkhole caving in on a nearby street. Events occurring on the same day with no causal relationship. And yet I cannot help but pay attention, look for meaning in such coincidence.
The blue heron is a call to balance, to establish boundaries, and to nurture oneself in pursuit of inner-peace, of some kind of release.
I struggle with whether or not to include this next part, because it is more my daughter’s story than mine. But, without it, my noting this synchronicity, the magnitude of my need for this timely message seems, perhaps, odd or disproportionate.
So, here it is: My ex-husband, in a conversation with our daughter, after telling her he was not coming to her wedding, referred to her relationship with him as, “Parasitic.”
I have no intention of vilifying him here. There are plenty of platitudes to explain why. And, honestly, there is no point. He is the biological father of my two daughters. Like it or not, his DNA is their DNA.
But I will insert a definition here, for the sake of clarity:
parasitic /perəˈsidik/ : adjective
1. Derogatory. Habitually relying on or exploiting others.
Keep in mind, before asking him to help minimally with the cost of her wedding, she has never asked him for anything else in the twenty-four years of her life.
An abridged list of parasitic organisms: Roundworms. Tapeworms. Trichinella. Guinea worms. Hookworms. Giardia. Pinworms. Ring worms. Entamoeba coli.
Keep in mind, she is his daughter.
Two weeks later, the sinkhole has been filled in, but caution traffic signs with blinking orange lights still mark the perimeter.
The blue heron has not returned, but a hawk has been soaring above the woods around us, above our backyard. Like the blue heron, the hawk is a predator.
predator /predədər/ : noun
1. An animal that naturally preys on others.
2. A person or group that ruthlessly exploits or manipulates those more vulnerable.
For years, I am mostly quiet about how he treats our daughters. I say nothing when he does not attend clarinet concerts or chorus recitals, track meets or award nights. When he cancels on them to go play gigs with his bar band.
It is easy sometimes to mistake silence for grace. I doubt myself. Think perhaps I should’ve said more. But what words would have mattered? What words could have shielded my daughters from this kind of disappointment?
I think about how long it might take for water to erode rock and soil before it caves in. How this gradual destruction is happening long before the collapse. Beneath us. Beneath houses and streets, sidewalks and open fields. We trust our footing. Assume safety. And yet.
Again, a metaphor insists on inserting itself into my narrative. I cannot resist.
Actions of a disappointing father = inevitable damage to his daughters.
Or what about the image of predator? That one writes itself, really. A metaphor is made up of two parts: tenor (the subject) = vehicle (the image that carries the weight of the comparison). It goes beyond association or likeness to equate. Tenor: father. Vehicle: hawk, or any predatory creature.
Figurative language makes it possible to write the nearly impossible. The heart breaks, regardless.
Today, I look up. What happens above is observable, able to be chronicled, studied.
The hawk glides. It arcs then dives. It plucks a chipmunk or a mouse from the garden, carries it away. There is always danger. The five-foot fence we build keeps out the deer, the fox, but it cannot keep the hawk from circling above, from swooping down so close I can hear the swoosh of its feathers just above my head.
There are equations used to describe the dynamics of biological systems in which two species interact. The Lotka-Volterra equations, also known as predator-prey equations.
x is the number of prey. y is the number of some predator.
t represents time.
For the sake of clarity, the solution takes into account motives and pre-conditions. It considers small changes in input and output. But, no matter how much time passes, there is no solution to this problem.
Some predators have a limitless need to overwhelm, to strike back and destroy.
Two days ago, the body of a deer at the dead-end of my street. No, not the body. Only the leg remains. I keep the dogs from going near it but get close enough to see: fur stripped away, parts gnawed to the bone. Its black hoof kicked off to the side like a shoe.
So much happens without us seeing—the stalking and snatching, just like that: silence wriggles in the darkness, releases a chill, a sudden rattle of the food chain.
I photograph the scene, my camera filled with images longing for words to bring them to life.
Another week passes. It rains heavily. Caution signs and bales of hay cover the muddy new earth that had been immediately backhoed and tamped down into the sinkhole. A temporary measure, I suppose, until geological engineers return to open it up again and determine the cause.
Meanwhile, in other places, the ground tremors, it fractures and buckles and gives way. In central Italy, an earthquake triggers an avalanche that collapses a hotel, pushing it down a mountain, killing twenty-nine people. A forty-foot section of California’s Highway 1 tumbles into the Pacific Ocean after days of rain.
The days seem foreboding, hours stacked up like stones. Precarious. Heavy.
The blue heron still has not returned to the backyard. I find myself waiting, glancing out the kitchen window, thinking about the idea of balance. The problem of striking the right balance.
And the language of balancing. The rhetoric of conflict and contrast. Of not just noting the difference between two things, but quantifying each in terms of the other.
That last thought feels like a solid place for me to end. But I realize I haven’t mentioned my ex-husband again in the past 722 words. Literally. I counted. I’d consider another metaphor here, perhaps for the sake of clarity, or closure, but I’ve given him enough words already.