birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Homecoming Parade

Today was Homecoming at UAB. I had forgotten this fact.

I arrived on campus to meet with students. I had Olive with me, my physically-challenged dachshund, who broke her back a few years ago. She maintains a drunken gait and must be "expressed," but she's a love.

I have a five-minute commute by car or a twenty-five minute walk to campus from my house.

I drove today because I wanted to bring Olive.

It's been a difficult week, and she's a comfort.

But as we arrived at my office, I could hear the UAB band playing and I recalled there was a parade.

Oh yeah, Homecoming.

It was hot - too hot for October - but not October in Birmingham, which is determined to stay in the high 80's, which is better than the 90's, but still today, I wanted fall.

Yet, I decided that instead of holing up in my windowless office in the George Wallace Humanities Building (he apparently had a deathbed change of heart on race and gave a ton of money to UAB), I would go to the parade with Olive.

So together we roamed across the green and caught the tail end of the parade.

Olive raced toward the college students who ran toward her too.

It was a love fest.

She rolled around on her back and sat up and watched a flew floats roll on by.

I have never been to homecoming at UAB, but today we watched the parade under a buttery sun.

The students wore mardi gras beads and painted their faces green.

A fire engine roared its siren and the band played the fight song.

The UAB Blazers play Louisiana Tech tomorrow.

When I first moved here, I ignored the mascot and a friend from England came to visit and asked about it.

I said, "It's a dinosaur or something."

He said, "It's not! It's a bloody dragon!"

He was right - Blaze, the Dragon, is our mascot.

But I grew up watching three football games a weekend, as my father was a coach, so I tended not to notice mascots or scores. (I did, however, see that Tennessee lost 42-0 last week, and my heart grew heavy for the families of the coaches and the enforced period of mourning they would have to endure until the next game.)

After the parade, I went to my office and met with students for a few hours. The anxious worriers were the ones who came by on the Friday afternoon of Homecoming.

Then I walked back to the car for the five minute commute home, talking my mom on the phone.

I heated up supper, poured a glass of wine, and looked at the way the sun hit the oak trees in the front yard, casting shadows on the walls.

And it was only five pm.

Time. Weather. Traffic.

For here is the thing.

The last of our three children moved out five weeks ago. The youngest, a girl, could not be happier living in her college dorm five minutes away.

She's only been home twice all fall.

I love that she's happy. She's meant for college. Today she gave a report in her "Origins of Epidemics" class and talked about caring for an aging population.

On Tuesday, the same class had a debate on guns. She said that three people around her admitted to having either concealed weapon permits or a gun collection and that stronger gun laws were not necessary.

She didn't look at their faces. She didn't want to know.

Today, she told me that she and her roommate were going to Homecoming.

Time. Weather. Traffic. (Guns.)

Anyway, I just have to adjust.

Once I had three kids, two cats, two dogs, a hermit crab, and three finches.

Now my husband lives in LA, and I live in Birmingham.

This wasn't the life we planned being tenured and promoted in two different states, but the years have accumulated.

And so this is my fifth weekend as an empty-nester. The first two weekends were on the road, so it's now just sinking in the hours and the quiet.

Do I miss the Los Angeles traffic?

I do not.

A friend called LA traffic "spiritual sandpaper."

So no, I don't miss it.

But I do miss Los Angeles.

For Friday nights in Birmingham stretch long on warm evenings with little traffic.

I have two novels that need attention and picture books and student work, so I will seek the courage to face them and try to banish the sadness of longing for home.


Nature's Bigger Picture