by Susan Tweit
Almost two years ago, on a sunny August morning, my sculptor husband, Richard, and I were headed for a two-week artist/writer residency in a remote cabin in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, a precious gift of time away from cell phones, computers, and the busy-ness of every day life to nurture our work. As we drove, Richard looked around at the dry grasslands and wooded mesas, and asked, “What’s with all the birds?”
I looked around and saw nary a bird.
“What birds?” I said, cautiously.
“There, and there, and there…” He pointed to the barbed wire fences, catttails in a nearby pond, utility wires, the wildflowers, everyplace where a bird could conceivably perch. He described hundreds and hundreds of birds: giant birds on distant mesa tops, tiny birds on each pebble in the road.
I saw not a one. “Show me a bird,” I said.
He pulled over on the side of the road and pointed to a chicory plant.
“Right here. See it?”
I shook my head.
He walked over cupped his fingers gently around the bird he saw. They passed through empty air. He turned to me, his face devastated.
“They’re not real.”
“No,” I said gently. I hugged him. We got back into the car and I drove us to Durango for breakfast. The birds followed us, perching on every building ledge, sign and planter. The residency was not to be.
The birds followed us on the five-hour-drive home. They were gone the next morning when I convinced him to see a doctor, gone when he landed in the hospital in Denver, his right brain so swollen that his doctors couldn’t believe he was alive. Without those birds, we would never have known his brain was growing a tumor that would require four brain surgeries, six weeks of radiation, and two kinds of chemo.
Throughout those months, the grueling procedures, the middle-of-the-night hospital ride over the mountains in an ambulance when we nearly lost him, the diagnosis with Stage IV brain cancer and twelve months to live, my formerly rudely healthy husband has kept his spirits up. Even when he who once taught graduate-level mathematical economics could no longer make sense of a computer screen; even when he whose abstract sculpture gives voice to native boulders as “ambassadors of the earth” had to rely on me to button his shirt every morning.
Today, on his 61st birthday, the tumor that had spread throughout his right hemisphere has receded a bit; his vision and brain function are slowly returning. He’s relearning to juggle, use a computer, see the rocks he works with, hear birdsong, and be present.
He says he is determined to approach each day with “an attitude of celebration and gratitude.” I am determined to walk this journey with him, a path we never expected to take, in a spirit of grace and love.
Happy Birthday, Richard! Onward we go, hand in hand…
Plant ecologist Susan J. Tweit likes to say she “evolved” into a writer. Her twelve books have won national and regional awards, and best of all, she says, the love of her readers.