Another Birthday

Illustration by Alla TsankThe sky lightens early these days, and by five a.m. I am awake. Bed is comfortable and my husband, solid and fast asleep, is warm beside me. But I am awake now, and restless, and I slide out from under the covers. I look for my bathrobe and slippers and my dog gets up to greet me, his collar clanking as he shakes himself awake. It is too early for him to go out and he knows it, so he accepts his morning hug and trundles back to his dog bed, back to sleep.

In the living room the fireplace, which springs to life on its own on a cold morning, is flickering orange, blue, red. Outside the light has shifted and now the sky and snowy mountains are a pale blue. It is very quiet.

Until I open the door where outside the air is ringing with the songs of robins. The robins have returned, singing in the woods and from the treetops. And just like that, even though the world is still covered in snow, it is spring.


In my memory, I am seven or eight years old, waking up in my room in the dim light of the early morning. Robins are singing. I jump out of bed, bursting with the momentous energy that comes from the fact that my entire life is before me. Sometimes I end up outside, wandering around the neighborhood in the dark, looking, I think, for the path that will lead me forward into the great adventure that will be my life. What will I do today? Will Mom and Dad make me spend the whole Saturday doing boring chores when I’d rather be reading Call of the Wild or Harriet the Spy? What about this summer? I want to bring a friend with me when we go away, and not get stuck in my parents’ idea of fun, Tennis Camp. And next fall, when school starts, it seems essential that I get the teacher I like, that I am in the same class with friends. Will I have to wait until high school to finally have a boyfriend?

When I was a kid the question “what will I be when I grow up?” was always before me. How do you ever find out, when there is so much to do in the world? After a lot of thought I settled on: a Game Warden. I had a general idea of what this actually was, but the important part was that I would live in the woods in a log cabin (I read books on how to build your own) with a husky dog. As I got older, there was also a handsome woodsman involved with whom I would share heroic adventures defending the rights of animals.


This morning I stand here on the porch listening to the robins sing. The fact that I made it across the next 50 years fills me with a feeling of lightness and relief. First of all, I found my way out of various predicaments in different parts of the world and made it home: from being left in some industrial part of Nantes, France after a party as a college student and having to walk home, to taking a wrong turn while hiking in the lonely rural hills of the New Territories of Hong Kong and ending up in an abandoned graveyard.

And then there were a couple of ill-advised marriages – one brutal, the other just a bad idea. In my late 40’s just when I thought that I was coasting into middle age with a measure of financial security, the housing market crashed, I lost the house I had bought, along with my job, and I was not sure I would be able to find any place to live that would take me and my dog.

And the question of “what I will be when I grow up” has had more answers than I expected (and a game warden did not turn out to be one of them).


Today there is nothing particular to accomplish and I don’t bother so much with what is coming down the road. Instead, I wonder whether or not Alan will wake up and make us pancakes for breakfast. Which I know he would do if I asked, even if it were not (almost) my birthday. Alan has been my husband for almost a year, and my friend for more than 40. It’s not that I have given up caring about the future, or that I have become more relaxed and philosophical. It’s just that in life, sometimes the thing you didn’t even know to plan or hope for turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Outside a family of crows pass overhead, as they do each day, flying out of the woods over the field towards Lake Dillon and Frisco where they will spend the day on crow-business. Snow is melting and filling the yard with deep pools of water that become a river pouring down the driveway. The sun catches in the clouds as it rises, turning them to puffs of white and gold. Suddenly Peak One and the Ten Mile Range are illuminated above the house.

In the treetops, and in the woods, the robins are singing.

Illustration by Alla Tsank

This piece appeared in the Summit Daily News, Sunday May 5, 2019

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