Sights from roads my feet have walked: the ginkgo


Courtesy of the Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons


The sidewalk wanders past the tiny shops. I notice a pharmacy its shelves lined with aspirin in antiseptic white bottles across from a Chinese medicine store with a window lined with bottles of ginseng roots floating in amber liquid, a stationery store no larger than a walk-in closet, and a coffee shop. A businessman hurries past me into shop, releasing the aroma of the freshly ground beans into the cold air.


Today, I say, I will be aware that I am alive. Today I will notice, I will see, I will be.


Ginkgo trees stand between the street and the sidewalk, each an equal distance from the one in front, stretching as far as I can see down the thoroughfare. All are completely bare of leaves. I wear layers of clothing beneath my warmest coat. It is February in Tokyo.


Up ahead I see one tree laden with the round, feathered fruit of sparrows. Dozens sit in that one tree, and only that one. It surprises me, and my happiness doubles when I notice two men inside a small shop noticing them, too.


We do not speak, the men and I. We stand, watching, filled with wonder and delight.


Some years have passed since that cold winter day when I stopped to see the world. Even in a world empty and barren, hope lingers. A tree bereft of leaves can blossom forth in birds.

I dream of flying


For as long as I have remembered, I have dreamt of flying. I stand under a blue sky with my arms lifted and then gently push off from the earth and fly, almost float, above my world.  Hope follows me out of these dreams, and I feel as if I share a secret with the sky.


When I was five or six, my father went on a trip and came home with a bracelet and necklace for me. I still have the set. Patterned after the silver and turquoise jewelry common among Native American tribes of the West, it is imitation jewelry, made for children. The necklace holds a rounded horseshoe-shaped piece in the middle, and my father told me that if I held that piece and made a wish, any wish, it would come true.


When you are a child, your nighttime dreams seem as real as your daytime life. I never thought that I was just dreaming about flying; I believed I was flying at night. In the morning, I landed back in this other world, held firmly in the arms of the jealous earth.

The day after I received the jewelry set from my father, I stood on the red brick planter in front of our porch, wearing the bracelet and necklace. One hand grasped the turquoise piece in the middle of the necklace, and the other held my nighttime dream, wrapped up in a daytime wish. I named my wish and saw myself soaring near the elm trees in the yard. Then I jumped.


The earth would not let go of me, and I landed on my feet, one hand still grasping the necklace, the other one empty. I watched my hope take wing and leave me, the sky indifferent to my longing. Children have their own sorrows and know the loss of dreams, sometimes before they have the words to tell you.


For many years, I kept a journal of my nighttime dreams, but for the last five years, my mind has chosen to forget. The other night I stood in a field and the sky called for me, like an old friend inviting me back. Featherless, I flew into that place of my childhood joy, the place of belonging. When I awoke, I could almost hear birds singing in the empty winter trees, a song familiar and forgotten, with a melody of hope.