Juncos have been eating at my backyard bird feeders since early December. My mom always said the juncos meant snow was coming. And this winter, true to form they’ve been here with the snow. But it is moments like this—the first sighting of juncos or the return of gold finches and hummingbirds in spring that make me long to pick up the phone and call my mom to chat about the birds at our feeders.

We often did just this, particularly during my years of living in Texas, where the arrival of gold finches signaled the beginning of autumn. I would call mom and thank her for sending them my way. Or tell her the birds had survived their migration from her Indiana back yard. We shared this love of watching the birds across the distance between Indiana and Texas. She would keep her bird book handy, noting the date of first seasonal sightings or newly attracted species. Following her example, I keep similar notes in my own bird books.

Even though it’s been eight winters since her death, I still think of picking up the phone when I see the first juncos.

Senses reveal memories

The birds at my feeder are just one of the times when I long for a chat with my mom. In the years since her death I can safely say there have been many of these times—when I think of her and wish I could tell her about something happening in my life; when I miss her deeply and wonder what she might say in support of my questions; or when I have something to celebrate and I wish she were here to rejoice in it with me.

And yet, right in the midst of this longing, I recall there are places where I can find her.

I see her handwriting on a recipe for a savory winter stew we enjoy.

I see her every time I walk past the table that was once hers. (And I see her in the piles there… for she too had piles of paperwork that floated from her desk to this table when it sat in her dining room.)

I hear her in the voices of her sister or my own sisters when they call me by phone.

I catch a glimpse of her in traffic or in the way a woman smokes a cigarette or in the scent of spring when the daffodils begin to bloom.

Then I remember that she is all around me—that she really isn’t as far away as she seems—that because we spread her ashes the way she wanted us to…she is in the earth, in blossoms, in trees, in leaves, in everything. I know I only need to be in nature for a while to see that she is with me.

Where do you go to find the one who has died? Where do your senses give you memories with which to live again?