The Slow-Cooked Sentence

To be known by name

Rachael Conlin Levy

The tiny drab birds descended on my yard like smoke. I caught my breath, not because they were beautiful for they were dull and indiscernible from each other, but because on my inhale they were not there, and as I exhaled I saw them, hopping and flitting through the branches. I tried to find something for my eye to cling to so I could identify them later, but beak blended with wing and wing blended with the gray apple tree. I held my breath, willing them to stay a minute more, but the cloud of feather dissolved even as I focused on it. I stood staring at the absence of bird, remembering the book “A Wind in the Door” that I had read as a girl, remembering, in particular, the cherubim.

“They turned around, and they saw, there by the great rock —

wings, it seemed like hundreds of wings, spreading, folding, stretching —

and eyes

how many eyes can a drive of dragons have?

and small jets of flame …”

Fortnight hat

Yesterday I planted more seeds, breaking and scraping the soil that was dry and cracked from three consecutive days of warm breeze and sunshine. I lifted the layers of material that replaced the front lawn, pushing aside first mulch, then compost before I reached a thick layer of  straw. I had to tear the warp and weave of this mat that was threaded with worms in order to create an opening for the lavender and strawberry. Ivan joined me, breaking open the dried marigold pods and sprinkling them across the dirt. Together, we’ve planted sugar snap peas, fennel, cilantro, California poppies and rocket. I like this list, which runs down the back cover of my writing notebook alongside the column I’ve created for birds spotted in the backyard.

Fortnight hat

I was at the bedroom window when the cloud of birds returned a second time, swirling around the edges of the juniper. This time I locked my eyes on them, noting the plump body, long tail and short beak. They were the color of a desert in winter. Confident I had enough to get out my bird book, I thumbed through the pictures of brown-and-gray birds until I saw the bushtit, a tiny knitter who weaves a nest from grass and spider web into the shape of a sock and hangs it among the branches of a tree: My birds had a name: psaltriparus minimu. Once again I was thinking of Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wind in the Door.”

“Sandy got up and shut the door firmly. “You were gone long enough.”

“Did you count the stars or something?”

“We don’t have to count them,” Meg said. “They just need to be known by Name.” ‘


In that spirit, the beanie’s name is “Fortnight” a pattern by Brooklyn Tweed. It was knitted in Shelter’s “button jar” and “hayloft” yarn, a targhee-columbia wool. Ivan says it’s pretty nice and cozy.

6 responses to “To be known by name”

  1. Beth says:

    Beautiful, Rachael. I’m so happy you were able to name your bird. And Ivan’s hat is gorgeous- great job! Best wishes with your garden, as well.

  2. kyndale says:

    I love the hat! It looks so good on your handsome boy!

  3. kyndale says:

    That’s so cool that the bushtit (I’m sorry, but what a name?!) knits it’s nest like a sock! Cool.

  4. Nice hat and very sweet face. Have you seen The Big Year? It’s pure entertainment, nothing more, but I enjoyed it. Good to watch when you are in the “I’m tired of deep thought” mode.

  5. gracia says:

    “The tiny drab birds descended on my yard like smoke.”

    That is one beautiful picture you’ve conjured. From start to finish.

    And such lovely photos to accompany them too.

  6. […] finches, bushtits, juncos and chickadees seem to have left, disappearing after the blossoms dropped from the apple and […]

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