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For the Birds photo

My mother cut my hair.

As a child I’d whine about the unendurable time it took and the chill in the air outside as she trimmed my dirty blonde mane back into shape, a grooming. It took patience and care to complete.

We’ll leave your hair for the birds, she’d say, so they’ll build their nests to keep themselves and their babies protected.

Now, all these years later when quarantine brings us together and yet separate from so much else, I ask if she’ll cut my hair, now tinged red with less gold from so much time indoors.

I am lucky to be home under her hovering gaze, as she inspects me and the job at hand. Her hair, though graying, is a lot like mine; she has long been my mirror. I want to keep her safe—all of us safe—but I sit there letting her baby me under the canopy of the trees.

Perched on a high stool, I squirm as the scissor brushes my back. My younger self still resists. My mother trims and measures, until I reemerge from beneath the straggling and trying months, my hair freed from its dead ends.

Of course, she leaves my hair for the birds—all except for a small lock I see her squirrel away for herself.


And that was where I wanted this piece to end, but an online search revealed that birds can strangle themselves in the hair strands we leave behind, a comfort turned deadly. So much is dangerous, even as we search for safety.


Two days after this moment with my mother, the stream that runs behind the house will overflow its banks, like it did when I was eight and Hurricane Gloria reigned. It will be yet another symbol of all that has threatened us in this current moment. Together we will futilely place stones, like sandbags, to try to redirect the raging river. It flows around our attempts at protection as though they are nothing.


image: Abby Manzella