the woman with a bird on her hat

I have the most magnificent gardening hat in the whole world. I know that’s a little presumptuous of me…but it’s true. It was woven by a neighbor and friend well known as a basket weaver here in the Northwest. This hat is an exquisitely hand-woven, traditional Northwest style, cedar bark hat. I even know where the cedar trees were growing when she harvested the bark; I asked her and she told me their story.

As one of the ways I support myself, I spend a lot of time outdoors taking care of, well…I actually say, “assisting” several flower gardens. I am honored to wear this hat in the garden each day. With its wide, gently sloping brim, the sun shines down on me and people tell me it looks like there’s a magical sprinkling of stars across my face, as the light sneaks through the tiny spaces between the warp and weft of the weave.

It took a while for me to adjust to wearing this dear hat-friend. It’s a large hat, with its wide brim and tall crown. As I bent down to smell an especially fragrant rose I’d disturb the whole bush as the brim brushed up against other blooms. Trees that I used to walk by or under with no problem now required me to plot a new path. I’ve never liked wearing hats, but I felt it was important to protect my face from too much sunlight, even though I live in the Northwest. I decided if I was going to wear a hat every day, I would wear a glorious hat.

After a while I began to appreciate that my hat did a fine job of protecting my head and eyes from stray branches; it takes more careful maneuvering than I was used to…but it’s well worth the effort. It protects my eyes, face and head from all the little branches that can whip you in the face or poke you in the eye or ear. I also find that it makes a great buffer, keeping many of the spiders and other insects that live in the garden just a little farther from me. I’d just as soon a spider or bee or wasp land on my hat than on my head.

These past two seasons we’ve had a crazy population explosion of tent caterpillars, with them and their little round poops raining down out of the sky in horror movie proportions and if I hadn’t already come to appreciate the protection my beautiful hat gave me…this did it. On more than one occasion I saw something out of the corner of my eye as I was working in the garden, only to look up and see a TENT CATERPILLAR hanging down over the brim of my hat waving “hello” to me. I was so grateful to my hat for being the front porch for that caterpillar, as the alternative could have been a tent caterpillar down the neck of my shirt. YUK. (Sorry tent caterpillars…I’m just not fond of you crawling inside my clothing.)

On one particularly lovely afternoon, I was doing some long-overdue pruning in a big, old clump of lilac. Just around on the other side of the lilac is a precious little shady part of the garden that in my mind I call “the grotto”. It’s always at least a bit overgrown, and is the dampest part any time of year. There’s a birdbath there that I fill with fresh water each time I visit and I love hearing the sounds the birds make as they’re lining up to take a dip.

When I hear the birds singing out their signals for who’s next in line, and who’s taking too long, and then when they hop in the birdbath, splashing the way they do, ducking and bobbing to scoop the water up and over their back and heads, then shaking out every individual feather from bottom to top – I LOVE IT! Those sounds fill me with pure joy.

As I was pruning in that lilac, my hat and I were moving in and out between many crossing branches – there’s a particular kind of percussion when branches rub against it. It’s a sound I’ve come to treasure: part of the symphony I’m surrounded by each day as I work outside. I’d been inside that clump for quite some time, moving this way and that, and had filled up my wheelbarrow to overflowing.

I finally tore myself away; from the pruning, which I love; from listening to the birdbath serenade, which I love, to roll the wheelbarrow over to my secret yard-waste hideaway. I was moving in my own reverie when I marched right by the front door of a little cottage on the property. Just as I rolled by with my big and brushy load, the young man who’d been staying there flung open his door, which swings outward instead of in, as most doors do. He threw open the door and yelled out with immense glee,

“LAUREN! How did you DO that!!??” The smile on his face was enormous.

“Do what?” I shrugged.

He was staring at me a bit insanely, really.

Again, “How did you DO that??!!”

What was he talking about?

A third time he sang out, “LAUREN, HOW  DID  YOU  DO  THAT!???”

In the midst of his third refrain I returned all the way back from the magical place that I am often transported to when I work in the garden. At the moment of my return I realized I was still hearing that sound…the sound I hear when I and my hat are messing around in a clump of shrubs…but I wasn’t in a clump of shrubs. I was standing out in the middle of a path with nothing anywhere near my hat.

A waterfall of joy showered over me.

“IS THERE A BIRD ON MY HAT??!!??!!” and I pointed to the origin of the sound, which was about one inch from my right ear.

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and with this we both started laughing with wonder.

I stood completely still while I shifted my eyes to look to the place where the sound – a delicate scratchy, raspy kind of fidget was coming from. I felt like I was having an angelic visitation. There was A BIRD gently moving about, right next to my ear. The awestruck young man froze in his doorway, still completely overcome with a gigantic smile.

All at once the bird flew up and over my shoulder and landed in a bush just behind me.

“There…there it is!” he pointed. I so wanted to SEE who, which angel, had graced me with its presence. There on the bush was a fledgling bird…you know the ones…their body and wing feathers are quite well behaved, but they always have a really bad hairdo; their head feathers are still all fluffy and every-which-way. That’s who was there; a youngster bird that thought my nice wide brim was a lovely little bird sofa, and who had paid no attention when its parents told it to STAY FAR AWAY FROM HUMANS. And then, in an instant this angel flew out of sight.

The young man and I just looked at each other still beaming with delight. And you know what is almost equally as noteworthy…he did not slide his phone out of his pocket to take a picture. He just drank in the magic. We both did.