Holding on to the Memories
December 20, 2018
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird
I would like to tell you I think about him every day, but that would be disingenuous.  As time slip slides away and memory fades, old memories recede with them.  But lately I’ve again been thinking about him often.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a Christmas specific column.  I was tempted this year to rerun the one I wrote about him on 12/15/06, but I’ve only done a repeat column once in the thirteen years and don’t want to get into lazy habits.  A call I received last week brought back the memories of him.  But not his memory, of course.  In case you missed that ’06 column, one of my personal favorites, here is the link to it--http://jimburnsphotos.com/pages/12-15-06.html—to set the scene for today’s column.

The call was from Mayo’s where I had volunteered for an Alzheimer’s research/study program.  I, and his daughter whom he gave away to me fifty-three years ago, have always felt it was something we could do in his memory those many years ago when there was nothing we could do, nothing that could be done, for his memory.

He lived, if it can be called “living,” with his disease but without his memories, in assisted care for twelve interminable years, a sentence harder on those with memories of who he had been than it was on him.  She is in a study program ongoing for twenty years now.  I signed up for mine ten years ago only to discover, with last week’s call, that a preexisting condition, irrelevant to Alzheimer’s Disease and presumably insignificant to my normal life, would preclude my continuing participation in the study.

Disappointed and seeking solitude, I did what I usually do when I receive an untoward surprise, the same thing I did back on the morning after November 9, 2016--I gathered up binoculars, camera gear, and water bottle, and headed to my local patch.  The sun rises late this time of year, and so do the birds, so I spent the first hour watching colors in the sunrise mimic the leftover fall foliage.  And remembering.

Slowly the avian denizens began to awaken to their daily business.  A mockingbird was, as you’d suspect, the first bird heard, and it flew into the copious strands of berries hanging from the Fan Palm, hung upside down, and plucked breakfast before flying off.  The wrens and thrashers soon turned out, probing through debris beneath the Creosote and Rabbitbrush.  I heard gnatcatchers but could not find them, always on the wrong side of the bushes from which they were gleaning tiny insects.

And then all went quiet.  An eerie silence, since the morning was clear and bright, the sun’s warmth dissipating the overnight chill.  No woodpeckers atop the Saguaros, no Abert’s Towhees flitting from beneath one bush to the next.  Even the ubiquitous starlings and House Finches had disappeared.  It took me a moment, but then it came to me when a Cooper’s Hawk dove out of the huge Tamarisk, slashed over the ridge, and headed toward the river.

Standing in the shade, for just a fleeting moment I felt the morning chill, unable to shake the thought of how Alzheimer’s silences the memory, silenced his memories.  Stepping out into the sunlight, I felt the warmth of the season, rebooted my mind, and remembered all is well as long as we are mindful of one another, do what we can, and hold onto the memories.  Somewhere up on the ridgeline a mockingbird began to sing.