I drove north on a side street, avoiding traffic on the main drags. Even though the main drags were more cleared, they were still slick and banked snow made for one tight lane of traffic, with lots of cars and drivers with places to be. I’d rather be alone and slow. I drive slowly.

I came upon a residential intersection. A truck ambled along, I yielded. Except, I didn’t. Nothing in my seasoned snow-driving could stop or deter my station wagon from sliding toward the truck. I cranked the steering wheel, hoping to spin into a side-swipe, figuring that would be better than a t-bone. I was only moving at about 10 miles per hour. The truck driver didn’t see me. He looked in the opposite direction at the 100 year old ponderosa laying on a crushed teal sedan. I honked, politely once and then obnoxiously. He snapped around and looked at me as I slid sideways toward him. We were both inching toward one another; we slid, no control but beautifully synchronized. He smiled. He was laughing. It seemed like he was next to me in one of those kid tea cup rides at the fair. And I laughed too. We made eye contact the entire time we slid. Nobody would be hurt. We skated sideways, in tandem, together – for many seconds – before he caught an edge and spun out, bumping the nose of my car. We pushed away from each other and stopped. I knew him. We hopped out and laughed some more, hugged and drove on. The only damage was my license plate: the corner dog-eared.

I smiled at the coincidence.

Minutes before I’d been in a doctor’s office watching her dog-ear a piece of paper to describe the state of my angry meniscus. I’ve been blue the last few days and trying to talk myself out of it. One week ago my knee puffed up. I noticed it. I pushed hard into and around my 15 year-old scar on that knee, wondered if something else shook loose since my surgery and recovery way back when. Nothing hurt.

Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle in a deep pool of icy slush while Ruby and I walked home from the city bus stop. I couldn’t stand. “Get up mama! You’re getting all wet and you will be so cold!” she alarmed, as frozen wetness spread across my leggings. I couldn’t get up. She took off her backpack and pressed it into the snow. She encouraged me to move out of the deep puddle. I crawled. I was dizzy. I fought throwing up. Just like when I first did this 10 years ago. But then it was summer and I didn’t have a four year old to assure. I could just writhe on the trail. I could throw up. And swear and clutch my ankle in despair. I knew it’d pass quickly. It always does. I said this out loud with clenched teeth and soaking wet clothes. But usually I can stand. Cars drove by and I felt embarrassed. But I couldn’t move. “Mama, I’m scared.”

I tried to call Andy. No cell service. A white minivan passed. The pain was usually subsiding by then but it was still hot and awful. A woman walked toward me, the woman who had been in the minivan. She was with her son. They carried bags of groceries. “Are you ok?” I told her I was, I would be.

“Can I give you a ride somewhere?” Ruby curled into my torso, pressing her face in my cleavage. I balanced on her backpack, squeezing my ankle. She had really wanted me to sit on her backpack. “No thanks,” I said, acting stronger than I felt. And before I could consider my ridiculous inability to accept help at that moment she smiled, “Nope. I am driving you home. I’ll be right back.”

The week before the ankle, Andy lifted a bag of chicken food and threw his back out. I was working in my studio and he stumbled over a snow pile and slammed the door open with force. He fell onto the couch, holding his breath. He quickly inhaled and exhaled through pressed lips. He was stiff with pain, cursing at the ceiling. it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad it’s bad he said for more than a minute.

Somewhere in here, we promised each other to do more yoga.

The dog-eared paper in the doctor’s palm made sense to me. I hadn’t fallen or twisted or anything; I was so confused by my gigantic knee. It had become so big and painful. But if I imagined a small piece of bright white paper in my joint with a neatly folded corner, that felt alright. Perhaps the page was curled when I fell and tore my knee into pieces when I was 20. And now, with more skiing than I’ve done in years, that curled page pressed firmly into the page before. A bookmark. Remember that time you were lifted over cliffs in a sled, strapped down? Remember your boyfriend and friends rigging up a pulley system to lower your shaking body off the mountain?


Dir Mom I hop shat yo ne felz batr (Dear Mom, I hope that your knee feels better).

The snow is heavy now, compressed by warmer temps. This morning Margot burst inside to yell, “RUBY. Get out here. I think it really will be spring! And even summer! Listen!”

We heard birds.

Seasons shift. Snow yields to spinach. People grow and age, learning how to use and admire their body for its strength and also its fragility. When we move toward an undesirable intersection, laughter helps. When we fall, grabbing an outstretched hand feels right. When we feel so much, swearing is wonderful. For all the things that seize, slide, tear and crash: we must patiently sit with ourselves. We must know this thing leads to the next thing. Birds always find a place to sing.



13 Responses to songbird

  1. Nico says:

    Oh Nici.
    Oh, Dear.
    Such Beauty in these upsets you convey.
    Big Love.

  2. Karin says:

    Oh my goodness Nici!!!! I hope everything heals quickly! That was a story and a half and such a beautiful piece! Sending lots of love and healing!

  3. Pamela says:

    I am someone who does a lot of yoga. Last year I was practicing handstand in my bedroom,, fell and broke my toe when I landed on the dresser. I hit my knee so hard on the floor I damaged a nerve and lay there trying not to throw up. What is it about pain? It brings us face to face with mortality?

    This is a beautiful essay and you have illuminated so many amazing themes- pain and healing; spring and winter; the way our children love us. I hope you are feeling better!!

    • dig dig says:

      When I experience intense pain, I think about people who live with chronic pain. I have a zooming rush of perspective and feeling grateful for my usual health and ability. That laying there that you and I experienced is a dreadful, powerless thing. Thankfully, it passes. And we can heal.

      I love that, coupled with your handstand story here, your website is :)

  4. Sara Paul says:

    wow, you’re good, Nici. Such a good writer. Man. Get better quick ’cause them birds need to be fed so that they stick around!

  5. Grace says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your ankle AND your knee. Are they on the same leg?

    I had a very complicated c-section to have my second son…and I stupidly picked up my first son at the zoo (totally not heeding those DO NOT LIFT instructions from the doctor) and popped four staples. My mom had wandered off with the baby and I was standing there holding my belly together while trying to act completely normal and fine to my five year old. I remember standing there thinking, “If I wasn’t an adult before, I am NOW.”

    • dig dig says:

      Different legs! I imagine they are connected…I will learn more at my pt appointment tomorrow. Big picture, this is minor. Injury sucks but I know I am about to learn a lot about my body and how I can strengthen and improve.

      HOLY SMOKES on your zoo story! Wow, mama. Definitely an adult! :)

  6. sarah says:

    gosh you. the way you write changes how i breath. XO friend. i wish you all better soon, but also i know that you have the wisdom in the healing place and that will be just as good.

  7. I was trail running with my dog last fall and decided to race her down a hill. I tripped and landed on my knee on a rock. I had that same nauseous, writhing in pain experience and finally had to slide over to a tree and pull myself up. I managed to hobble my way out of the mountains and then hobbled around for months with the mantra, “Oh, it’ll get better.” It always gets better, right? My body begged for me to pay attention but, darn it, I’ve never had an injury that time and patience hasn’t healed. Finally, I could stand it no longer and went in to the doctor. Broken kneecap, shredded cartilage and a torn ACL. Why is it that we show more compassion to others than we do our own bodies? Had I been the lady in the minivan and saw you in pain on the ground, I wouldn’t have hesitated to jump into action to get you help. But my own body needed me and I told myself to suck it up, that I’ll be fine. I know I learned a valuable lesson…sometimes we’re the ones that need the help and next time I fall, I plan to be kind to myself and grab that outstretched hand …or maybe offer one to myself…then I’ll patiently wait for the bird to sing. Loved your post and hope your body heals quickly.

  8. Cydnee says:

    I am so sorry about your ankle & knee. Your writing is so beautiful. The last paragraph is just what I needed to hear, today. Take care of yourself.

  9. Clare Mackenzie says:

    Really beautiful writing Nici – vintage Dig.
    Hope you are healing nicely.
    Fond regards,

  10. Britta says:

    Heal up! I hope the spring brings much health to you and your family.

  11. Kelli says:

    Thinking of your bumped car, and your hurting knee. And I am so grateful for your words about changing seasons, and life going on. Thank you.