Maple leaves

Last night I dreamed I was at a bustling marketplace: a place similar to Boston’s Faneuil Hall or Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but not actually either. It was a setting I couldn’t identify in real life, but in dreamtime it was somewhere I’d been to before, albeit not recently.

In my dream, I went to this marketplace to browse: I was just looking. I walked among other shoppers without buying anything: I had no shopping list and no urgent need. I was by myself and free to duck into any store that looked interesting. I was enjoying the simple anonymity of being among other random shoppers: no rush or hurry, just gentle mingling.

At one point, I passed a corridor I’d never had time to explore. It was a passage I had always hurried past or through, as it was a narrow connector between two shops you could more easily reach from outside. In this corridor I found a favorite shop I thought had closed. It carried the kind of jewelry and beautiful tchotkes I adore: paperweights and snowglobes, pottery mugs and wooden puzzles.

Then through the nonlinear logic of dreams, I wandered into a science museum, admiring exhibits with no particular agenda or hurry: a desultory ramble through the land of Look Don’t Touch. Next I found myself in a quiet church in between services, with random strangers lighting candles and praying quietly in pews. I blessed myself from the communal font and gently touched a rosary someone had left beside a stack of church bulletins.

Only on my way home did I remember I was supposed to be in quarantine, the strangers around me all potential vectors of invisible contagion. After more than a month of meticulous isolation, I would have to start my quarantine anew, worrying for fifteen days whether I had been exposed to sickness by the innocent act of walking unmasked among strangers.

Was it worth it, this risk of contagion in exchange for a casual afternoon spent window-shopping like we used to do without worry? The dream ended before I could decide.

Gone to seed

Last night I had a long and rambling dream about being at a party in an old abandoned building. Throughout the dream, groups of party-goers and I set out to explore the building, which was dilapidated and structurally unsound: at times we had to climb ladders and crawl through windows to move from one floor to another, and we took care to warn one another whenever we found a loose floorboard or (in one instance) open trapdoor.

At one point we stopped our explorations to have a Secret Santa-style gift exchange. I had brought a handful of gifts to contribute to the swap, figuring there might be people who would show up without a gift. When the gifts were distributed, however, there wasn’t anything left for me, and I tried not to act disappointed. After another round of wandering through the house, though, someone gave me a gift they had found: an audiobook narrated by Ellen Degeneres.

After the gift swap, we resumed our wandering, and in one of the rooms I met and briefly talked with Magic Johnson. He had just gotten a new phone, and he wanted to add me to his contacts. Magic wanted me to take a picture of him so I could add it to his contact information, but I told him I had to explore the building and would take his picture later. Through several rounds of wandering in circles through the maze-like building, I saw Magic patiently waiting for me, but when I finally returned to take his picture, he was gone.

Dried hydrangea

It’s probably not surprising that, as a birder, I occasionally dream about birds. Almost always, the birds I see in my dreams are unidentifiable. Instead of dreaming I saw actual tanagers, buntings, or grosbeaks, I often dream of seeing some weird creature I’ve never seen in books: the kind of creature you’d say you’d never dreamed of.

Rain on hydrangea leaves

In these dreams, I’m always without a field guide, so I spend most of the dream staring at the unusual bird and reciting its field marks to myself, forcing myself to remember a combination of colors that seems so striking, you’d think it would be easy to identify later. In nearly all instances, though, I wake up without remembering exactly what I saw. Was it an orange bird with green wings and a purple head? Or was it a purple bird with green wing-bars and an orange rump? Whether or not I actually remember any of the details, though, the simple fact remains: the birds of my dreams don’t exist. Even if I could remember their field marks, I’ll never find them in any field guide because they represent an idea that doesn’t exist outside of dreams.

One night last week, I dreamed I saw an unbelievably bright, lemon-colored bird, the size and stockiness of a large sparrow. It literally glowed in the tree it was in, its plumage similar in color to the reflective, Day-Glo vests that runners wear after dark to avoid getting hit by cars. More incredible, though, was the texture of its individual feathers, which were curly, giving the bird the nubbled appearance of a close-cropped poodle or short-tufted Berber rug. In my dream, the astonishing nature of this bird’s plumage reminded me of the overlapping, crowded and curled petals of dry hydrangea flowers, leading me to repeat to myself over and over, astonished, this most remarkable of field marks: “It looks like a yellow hydrangea-head! It looks like a yellow hydrangea-head!” And then I woke up.