Kin You Keep
by Gavin Van Horn
Gavin Van Horn is the Creative Director and Executive Editor for the Center for Humans and Nature. A self-described “storyforager,” Gavin’s writing seeks to capture the ongoing dialogue between humans, our nonhuman kin, and the animate landscape. He is the author of The Way of Coyote: Shared Journeys in the Urban Wilds, and co-editor of Wildness: Relations of People and Place, and City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness.
Hokyoung Kim is an illustrator from South Korea. She studied painting at Hongik University, and received her BFA in illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design. Her clients include the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and others. She currently lives in New York City.
As birds herald the onset of spring, Gavin Van Horn seeks reprieve from the thinking mind and its tireless encounters with dread and worry. He wonders what to keep close amid these anxious times.
The Robin, the Blackbird, ululate about tree placement and their place in it. Male Blackbirds are everywhere showing off their epaulets, puffing out their chest feathers. ‘Tis the season of bravado and such. Robins seem not to read the news, their tweets have more substance than ours, if not urgency. If they panic, it is for a moment—a Red-tailed Hawk, a dog off the leash. Subsiding, they shimmy their feathers back in place, offer a single huff as commentary, get back to living. Urgent needs start them chattering again. We could all use more singing.
My head does the wash. It’s undefended at night and things slip in and tumble until the light paints trapezoids on the ceiling. I do counting exercises, breathwork, wish I was a Zen Master. I bet Zen Masters don’t wish to be Zen Masters, they let go and become them, like Blackbird trilling and the sky that holds all of life’s urgent cries. The Zen Master is the caterpillar slurped into a Robin throat, also the Regal Fritillary who bursts a chrysalis and dances honey into the air. I know nothing. Only that we are Mystery and I grow more and more suspicious of my attempts to explain.
The Robin, the Blackbird, will sing inconsolably, inconsiderately, when the dread is worst, they will sing when it is coming, when it is here, when it passes. They are oceanic in their care, like the tides, they don’t give two fucks whether the stores sold out of toilet paper, like the tides, their songs are a tender mercy of Mystery.
There are only a few singing stones, a few pieces of sea glass from the tides, to carry with you. One is shaped like gratitude, one glistens with light and shadow, one is so smooth it touches you when you touch it. These are kin you keep—and birdsong is probably the only timepiece you need.
I wish I could give you words at night, the kind that could make your heart ache less. I wish I could hum away unwanted thoughts that seep under the door. I wish I could let go, like an ebbing tide, like a Zen Master. For now, we’ll breathe and wait for the Robin, who is carefully selecting a branch by the window.