Suburban Journal: Meeting With Magpies

magpie holding peanut in beakWe went to the Target shopping center today, trying to get out the house for a little while and stay out of the cold. As my family shopped, I went through the aisles and departments looking at things I didn’t want but knowing we would buy something anyway. Going through the checkout line, I thought of how hard it was to go a day without buying at least one thing, no matter the cost, for the sake of buying something. This instinctual consumerism that seems to be a part of American mentality is one of things I think about time and again. Walking to the car through the gray day, my free hand holding my youngest son’s, my thoughts were broken as I scanned the empty parking spaces near our car, and I saw an unusual sight on the dirty concrete.

A dozen blackish-brown magpies were pecking at the ground, eating scattered popcorn kernels someone had spilled. It was strange to see so many birds out in one place this time of year. Most of the time I saw them in ones and twos, Now, here they were, a dozen birds all together in the cold, eating an errant spill on the parking lot that was once a pasture.

“Look, look at the birds!” My sons cried, pointing in wonder at the flock.

“Yes, look at them,” I said, wishing I had the same degree of newness and wonder for the world around me.

Most of the time I walk through life with my mind either looking forward to what I’m going to be doing or to the past. I’m not mindful of what I’m doing, of the action in front of me as I try to do half a dozen things when I should be focusing on the one task. But here, now, I was focused and mindful, not passing judgment, but merely being aware of what I was experiencing with my family.

Looking at the magpies, birds I have traditionally paid no attention to, for once I could clearly see them as they ate the kernels of corn. I could see them, be mindful of what was transpiring, and I knew I was making progress with my practice. For that I am thankful. As we got in the car and drove off, I knew the picture of the birds was one I would carry. Let mindfulness set my consciousness free.


This is an article in my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:
The Tree Blossoms
The Dead Bird
A Budding Tree
An Encounter With a Falcon
The Carrying of Sounds
The View from My Window


Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by Micha Klootwijk

Suburban Journal: The Remnant

neighborhood road in snowy winterFebruary had been a strange month for weather. It was like the weather couldn’t make up its mind on whether it was going to be warm or cold, changing every few days like hypomania, never going the full extreme into full-blown mania. Yesterday it had been 70 degrees, a taste of what late spring would bring, but today the temperature dropped, and the day was cold in the 40s, the north wind blowing with a bitter chill that told its true nature.

My parents and I had just finished watching Circus Soleil, and walking out of the big top, the wind blew across our faces like a straight razor. Standing for a moment in the parking lot, where 500 yards away stood an immense mega church, I turned my face straight north and let the wind hit my brow, rubbing across as it were barber ready to give me a shave. The wind had come hundreds of miles down the long plains, hurtling down Kansas and Oklahoma that unfurled in North Texas, a winter remnant reminding that spring was not here yet.

Overhead, the night was clear, stars shining eons away as we walked in the cold toward our car. A few hundred yards away, I could see some trees and the incline of a hill, and I thought about what this area must have looked like a hundred years ago. It was probably prairie, a small farming community, all of that gone now, progress moving forward with urbanization, remorseless in its precision and expansiveness. All that remained native was the wind, the North Wind from the plains.

It had blown cold and hard each winter, each gust crossing the years as change came in the way of a booming economy. The land would change, people would die, but the wind would be the witness to it all, for now until the end of time. Getting into our car, the wind lingering on my hoodie’s shoulders, I know it would be with me until I passed. With that, Nature ran its course in one way or another, even with so much change. And that thought gave me comfort. We drove on home through the night, and the wind kept his company all the way home and into Morpheus’ sleep.


This is an article in my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:
The Tree Blossoms
The Dead Bird
A Budding Tree
An Encounter With a Falcon
The Carrying of Sounds
The View from My Window


Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by Pavel Cheiko

Suburban Journal: Natural Boundaries

neighborhood sidewalk leading to treesWe took the kids to the park yesterday, letting them ride on their new scooters along the sidewalks as we closely followed behind. The day was filled with sunshine, the moisture from the previous night’s rain quickly dissipating in the warm afternoon sun. We had just returned from my parents’ home in Oklahoma after putting my grandmother to rest, and though exhausted, we enjoyed being outside in the unusual weather for this time of year.

Watching my kids play, my eyes turned south to the periphery of the park. Surrounding the park is a large tract of undeveloped land, natural prairie filled with brush, mesquite, and ornamental pear trees. There is no fence enclosing the park; the land is defined by what is mowed, a natural boundary along the edge unkempt and wild. Staring at the boundary, I wondered what the park would be like if no one mowed? Would the prairie reclaim what was rightfully its own by growing up through the carefully manicured grounds, stunted saplings springing up in a wave of protest? Who decided this boundary? Why did they not mow it all down, clearing away the last vestige of the land that once was and would never be again? To the west, I saw the bulldozed land that would soon be another part of the subdivision of the quickly encroaching phenomenon known as suburban sprawl. In five years, would the still undeveloped pastureland be all gone, the park boundary replaced with cookie-cutter houses, board fences, and sidewalks?

I thought about the natural boundaries in both nature and people, the boundary that separates life and death, something never thought of until it comes crashing home. My grandmother was a person who bridged those boundaries when I was a child, showing me the wonders of nature, of trees, woods, brush, and mountains, whether it be the back pasture behind her house or the Kiamichi mountains where she was born. She introduced me to nature, to the love I have of land not yet tamed by sprawl.

Now, as I stared at the park boundary, I thought of how she had crossed the final barrier, one in which she could not come back. Death is a condition no one can escape, and though it may claim the living, I do not think it is the end. As the Wheel turns, so the lives we share with others, until it all runs like a stream without beginning or end. I can believe in this kind of melting of boundaries as I watch my kids play, knowing love and hope moves on with the rolling of time. For that, I believe, as I run to catch up with my kids as they transform into adults before my watchful eyes.


This is an article in my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:

The Tree Blossoms
The Dead Bird

A Budding Tree

An Encounter With a Falcon

The Carrying of Sounds
The View from My Window


Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by Susan Leggett

Suburban Journal: The Tree Blossoms

My grandma died on Wednesday in the morning as I drove to see her. There had never been a day where she was not alive in my thirty-six years of life, but today was Thursday, and it was my first day without her. All last night and today I have felt numb, like something was turned off inside of me, a switch that made me alive. As I made my way to Tai Chi class this morning, everything felt slowed down, crawling at a snail’s pace, and I wondered how I would do at the funeral on Saturday. I had almost not gone to practice today, but decided it might help find my balance before I went to work.

Going into class, I was early, but my instructor and a fellow student were already in the room talking. Coming in, they warmly greeted me as I sat down in a chair. Putting away my keys and billfold, I tried my best to relax before the session began. As my eyes scanned around the brightly lit room, my mind was filled with my grandmother, the person I had been closest to while growing up. For the last five years she had lived in a nursing home, the person I knew slowly taken away by a series of strokes and old age. I had said goodbye to her last week, but she had been more alert and aware than she had ever been in the last two years. Staring out the large bay windows on the far side of the room, I wondered how I was going to process the death of the woman who had protected me as a child. At first my eyes looked through the windows without seeing, my thoughts clouding my vision, but slowly they cleared, and I was staring at the same tree I had looked at two weeks ago. The last time I looked at the tree, the branches had buds growing on them but had not yet flowered. Staring intently at the tree branch, my mind calmed and there was a moment of clarity. Now the blooms on the tree branch were open, just barely, and were beginning to flower.

I stared at the branch and thought of my grandmother, about living and dying, the changing of seasons, and the turning of the Wheel. The Dharma would continue to revolve as my life moved forward. But for a moment in time, I was aware of what was happening in front of me, and I knew I would overcome the grief of my grandmother’s passing. As I stood to begin practice, I knew I would keep looking out the window and think of my grandmother. . .

One move at a time.

flowering branch of cherry


This is an article in my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:

The Dead Bird

A Budding Tree

An Encounter With a Falcon

The Carrying of Sounds
The View from My Window


Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by jacek913

Suburban Journal: The Dead Bird

We had just arrived home from Oklahoma after visiting my parents for the weekend. As we got ready for the new work week, my thoughts went back to the visit and seeing my grandma for what might have been the last time. She was living in the nursing home near my parents’ house, was 90 years old, and was dying. My Mom and uncle had made the decision to take her off the machines and let her die in peace, something which my grandma had wanted for a long time. Now back home in Fort Worth, I could only periodically call my parents and ask on my grandma’s status as every hour left me wondering if she were alive or dead. As we went about our chores to get ready for the week, I felt numb and tired from the emotional turmoil of the weekend. As I prepared my satchel before I went to tutor students at the university, my wife and twin sons went outside to hang clothes to dry.

“Wade, come quick,” said my wife Jeab as I my sons cried out in astonishment. As I went out into the back yard, my mind reflecting on my grandmother who was dying two hours away, I wondered what was wrong.

“It’s a dead bird,” she said, pointing at a still body lying near the back porch. For a moment, I just stared at the dead bird, looking at it as if it was the first time I had ever seen something dead. Getting a plastic bag, I carefully picked it up with a paper towel and peered at it for a moment. As my children asked questions about why the bird was not flying, I looked into its eyes, which reflected like glass. The bird was colored a dark brown with an off-white under plumage, and for a moment I imagined the bird was just sleeping, taking a rest from a long flight. But I knew I was just dreaming, and quickly I placed the dead bird in the plastic bag, tied it up, and went and put it in the garbage can. Going back into the house, I tried my best to answer my kids’ questions on what happened to the bird and if it would be all right.

“The bird is just sleeping. It needs to rest,” my wife and I said, not ready to explain the concept of death to our toddlers just yet.

Looking at my children, I thought about the dead bird and my grandmother. Just a day ago, my sons had hugged and kissed her for what was probably the last time in their young lives. They had no idea they were actually saying goodbye to a person they would vaguely remember from their childhood years later. But the bird brought that reality closer to home as I tried to emotionally accept my grandmother’s impending death. All I could do was wait and see, and try to let the process of grief to run its course. Because letting go of the person who I was closest to in my childhood was not something I could accept overnight. And I thought the bird was an omen of what was going to come in the next couple of days. I just wish it were so simple to let go, but I knew it wouldn’t be.

father and son silhouettes at sunset


This is an article in my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:

A Budding Tree

An Encounter With a Falcon

The Carrying of Sounds
The View from My Window


Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by jes2ufoto