“My God, she talks to the birds, and I think she believes they talk back to her.”

American Robin 2020 © Stephen Bruno, Cedaredge, Colorado

When I was an Executive Director of a mental health agency in the California mountains, a brother and sister came to talk with me about their elderly mother, “Mary.” They felt that she needed to be institutionalized or kept in a long-term care facility. They expressed concern about her cognitive ability and safety.

“My God, she talks to the birds, and I think she believes they talk back to her.”

Her brother nodded his head in agreement.

They showed me some legal documents from their attorney. If I agreed that their mother was unable to adequately care for herself, and sign the papers, she could be committed. I was wondering how genuine their concern was and if there were ulterior motives. Either way, I wanted to ensure Mary’s well-being. I told them both that I would visit with their mother and report my decision back to them soon.

In the next few days, my new administrative assistant and I drove along the winding mountain road until we came to the address I was given. I had not called ahead so that we could observe the situation without any preparations from Mary.

The secluded older home was set on a beautiful, clean, clear water lake and nestled in a forest of towering pine trees. We walked past a well-kept front yard. I knocked on the door, and after a few minutes, a tall thin woman with kind eyes and a welcome smile opened the door and looked at us curiously, but she didn’t say anything. I explained that her children were concerned about her. She was dressed in warm winter clothes. I explained that we were asked to see how she was doing. I introduced myself and my assistant.  As she looked us over carefully, she was obviously in some deep contemplation.

After a few moments, she apologized for her lapse in hospitality, and she invited us into her home.

“Come, have a seat at my kitchen table while I make you some of my hibiscus tea.”

We followed her through the comfortable living room and sat at her large cherry oak dining table with a pedestal.

Her home was immaculate with everything in its place. The typical family portraits hanging on walls and knickknacks on the shelves.

“Oh, dear!” She exclaimed.

She turned off the burner under the teapot where the water had evaporated.

My assistant and I shared a subtle glance. I knew what she was thinking as she was troubled after listening to the family members stating their concern and was leaning toward my signing the legal documents. The teapot only increased this certainty.

Mary filled up a different teapot with water, turned on the same electric burner, and encouraged us to try her carrot cake she had baked earlier while the water heated. Each of us was given a generous portion of cake while she took a smaller slice. I was not surprised that the carrot cake was delicious.

“Although unnecessary, it is lovely of my children to be concerned about how I am doing. They are delightful children. I’ll always think of them as my young children even as they have grown into adulthood.”

After a few moments, Mary got up and poured the three of us tea and brought us sugar.

“How do you like living in the mountains without nearby neighbors, and have you ever felt lonely.”

“I love living here. This is my home. Oh, heavens, no, I have my friends who visit with me frequently.”

Again my assistant and I shared a curious glance.

“After we finish our tea, I would like to show you my pride and joy, my garden.”

I can see why she loved the garden; the landscaped garden was so peaceful and beautiful with a variety of plants and small trees. Every detail was impeccable.

Almost as soon as we sat in the three comfortable lounge chairs, the birds arrived. During the following two hours, these included Steller’s Jays, Scrub Jays, California Thrashers, woodpeckers, Mountain Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, nuthatches, and Northern Flickers. The tranquil melody of songs was inspiring.

“I don’t see any birdfeeders.”

“Oh dear, I never feed the birds as I know they have plenty of food provided by nature.”

As we enjoyed the beautiful garden, more birds came to replace the previous ones. From the interactions of Mary and the birds, it became evident that she did not need to feed them to encourage their visits.

“If you excuse me for a moment, I want to welcome my bird friends.”

With that, Mary walked around the garden, addressing each bird who seemed intently on connecting with her. It was clear that there is some communication between her and each bird. When she called to the birds, they arrived singing and responding to her softly communicating with each one.

“Is there is something else I can get for you?”

I looked at my assistant, and she shook her head no, and I said that there wasn’t anything else that she could do for us.

I asked if there was anything we could do for her since she did live alone. She said, not really. She thoughtfully mentioned that once in a while, she had become rather forgetful about things like a tea kettle boiling over, and occasionally why wondering why she walked into a room until a few minutes later, she’d remembered why.

After several questions about her living conditions that I asked as unintrusively as possible, she shared about her early life and her love for her children. She had been widowed for several years.

It was true that she was becoming forgetful, and I believed Mary required help to make sure she was more careful about things like not letting her water boil over on the stove. Also, I thought someone to help her shop, provide light housekeeping, and keeping a nurturing eye on her would be necessary. Although she was fiercely independent most of her life, Mary felt that her children would be relieved with her receiving a visiting caretaker.

On my recommendation, she remained in her home with a visiting caretaker. I believe that Mary flourished rather than forced to live in a restricted environment. I’m confident that the birds also benefited.

 

I May Attend My Own Eulogy

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wondered why we fondly share all the meaningful remembrances about someone after their death rather than when they were alive. When I read about celebrities and others and the beautiful statements made about them from their peers, I can’t help but think it would be great if this information we shared in their eulogy was told to the person while they were still with us.

As editor of both my high school and college newspaper and a Journalism major in my first years in college, I know that newspaper morgues have prepared obituaries that can be updated and put out quickly when a well-known person passes on. I understand the value to family and friends in the general public to be reminded of the person’s qualities and things that they did to make a difference.

It seems to me there’s something missing with this process when the person isn’t around to hear these heartfelt sentiments and how much of a difference that may have made.

I wonder what would happen if we shared with people in person, how much they mean to us, and what a difference they make in our lives.

The Collie with a twinkle in its eyes …

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Years ago, I took 15 people on 50-foot houseboat personal and spiritual retreats to Lake Powell in Arizona year-round. On one trip returning to Prescott from Page,  Arizona, I was driving a large van on an isolated two-lane rural road with several of the retreat participants and no other vehicles in sight for miles. I was driving rather fast on the long straight flat road, and I continued looking farther up the road for safety when I noticed some movement.

I slowed the vehicle down without waking the passengers in the back. The person in the front passenger seat and I were mesmerized by what we observed on the road in front of us.

I pulled to a stop and observed two beautiful Collie dogs, each one facing the opposite direction of the road. In the middle were many sheep crossing from one side of the road to the other. There were no people anywhere to be seen.

It was an amazing sight to observe these two majestic dogs independently shepherding the sheep across the road, standing defiantly against any vehicles that could harm their flock. The focus and intensity of their herding instinct reminded me that domesticated dogs are decedents from wolves and use the circling and grouping moves I observed in the Collies.

It wasn’t until the last of the sheep crossed into safely that each of the dogs took one long look down the road and then followed the sheep.

The Collie facing our van looked me straight in the eyes, and I don’t believe it was my imagination that it had a twinkle in its eyes and a half-smile as the Collie jauntily continued its way towards its responsibility with the sheep.

The experience touched my naturalist’s heart and soul.

 

 

South Of Somewhere

South of Somewhere 2006 © Stephen Bruno, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation, Sutcliffe, Nevada

South Of Somewhere

South of somewhere
Searching for someplace
Drawing me closer somehow
I found the elixir of something

© 2007 Stephen Bruno

 

Freelance Contributor & Photojournalist for Colorado Monthly News Magazine

After an extensive evaluation process including submission of my writing style and photography ability, I received an email today that I am now one of their freelance contributors & photojournalist for Western Colorado’s leading monthly news magazine for adults 50 and older with over 50,000 readers each month.

My first paid job was in high school taking action photographs of county-wide high school sports events and writing an accompanying brief news report for a large newspaper.

I am currently editing several fiction and nonfiction books and a coffee table photography book with 2020 as the publishing date.

Since I was drafted out of college at the height of the Vietnam War which deterred me from my journalism major, this Freelance Contributor & Photojournalist brings me back full circle to my first passion.

Early Writer – I was writing short stories on an old Underwood typewriter by the time I was four years old. In junior high school, I wrote two plays, Old Glory and Adelante! I was asked to have these play presented to the student body while given some director responsibility.

Avid Reader – I began reading at a very young age. Throughout elementary school, I read novels in class and ditched school to spend hours at the library near my home.

Editor in Chief – I was the editor of both my high school and college newspaper.

Rebel – I created and wrote articles and satire for an ‘underground’ newspaper I had the U.S. Army distribute in Vietnam during my fourteen-month tour of duty. I was nearly court marshaled and ordered to stop after two issues.

Columnist – For several years, I wrote a weekly Southern California newspaper column on diverse subjects.

Magazine Publisher & Editor –  I published and edited a monthly literary, photography, and art magazine for several years.

Writers’ Conference Director – I organized and directed two national writers’ conferences in Oregon and Washington.

Writers’ Group & Workshop Instructor – I created and taught numerous writers’ groups and workshops, resulting in publication for some participants.

Daddy, Why Are the People Crying?

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Daddy, why are there names on the wall?
They are Americans killed during the Vietnam War.
Daddy, why do the people touch the wall?
To touch the wall is to touch the dead.
Daddy, why are the people crying?
The dead are touching them back.

© 1989 Stephen Bruno

I wrote this poem at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on Veteran’s Day 1989 during my first and most significant visit. I watched many people at the Wall tracing names, touching names, and staring off in reflection. After experiencing the same for myself as a Vietnam Veteran, I wrote this poem at 3 AM. I pictured my daughter, Kelly, as the child asking the questions.

Blessings to all of the veterans of all wars, their families and loved ones, MIAs, and the ones who gave their lives.