Sunday, November 23, 2014
I hit an owl.
The sky was dungaree blue, clinging to just enough light to maintain a horizon where the spikes of pine trees stood like arrows proclaiming, “This way to the exit.” I wasn’t driving all that fast. As soon as I saw him standing like a referee on the painted line in the middle of the road, I took my foot off the accelerator assuming that the sound of the approaching engine and the brightening headlights would motivate him into flight. It did.
He spread his wings and turned to face me. For half a second we were eye-to-eye. Long enough for me to recognize him as an owl, to see the wide-as-a-saucer circle of feathers around his eyes, to be transported by memory’s subway pass to another time when my eyes met those of another creature and the world fell away. And then he flew directly into the grill.
I gasped, slowed, looked for a place to turn around, hopeful – How can a person be so hopeful? – that he had just been stunned and was even then fluttering drunkenly off to his nest to tell the story. “Honey, you ain’t gonna believe ...”
The headlights splayed out across the road in long white cones and, along the other painted line, the one that divides pavement from ditch, I saw the feathered body, a still shadow. I burst into tears.
It was about time. The last week had been a painful one, a traumatic one. I’d buried two people I love, one a friend of nearly 30 years whose brilliant life had ended far too soon and one a woman whose long and fruitful 91 years had included her claiming of me as one of her own shortly after the death of my beloved Grannie. I had offered hugs and words of condolence, I had held hands and shared memories. At the latter gathering I’d even stood up in front of everybody, told a story or two, offered some scripture, and prayed. But I hadn’t cried. Not really.
So now I did. And as I sobbed, gripping the steering wheel and blinking rapidly so that I could still see the road ahead, I turned on the owl, demanding loudly an explanation for why he had to fly straight into the car, a reason for why he should have been in the road in the first place, a justification for why he could not have delayed his kamikaze dive for the next inevitable pair of headlights.
Owls, it is said, are the only creatures who can live with ghosts. And they are, of course, purveyors of wisdom. I didn’t really want to think that the women whose losses I was grieving were trying to speak. I mean, that would be just a little too weird. Even for me. Yet, there was something otherworldly about that moment when the owl locked his gaze with mine. It was as though I’d stumbled into a thin place, unknowingly wandered into land equidistant between heaven and earth.
The cell phone dinged. The peculiar ding of a text message. I was almost home. There were no other cars on the road. I slowed to a crawl and looked down at the screen, one hand on the steering wheel, the other trying to get the tears out of my eyes so that I could actually read the words. But the message wasn’t words. It was a photo of Jackson standing in the dim white lights of a just-raised Christmas tree, his four-year-old hand reaching out to place a candy cane on one of the branches, the profile of his expressionless face all curves and softness. He looked like an angel, all that blondness, all that cherubic innocence.
The tears resumed.
The denim sky was fading quickly, the pine trees fading into darkness. I leaned into the curve that hugs the pond where the Canada geese gather every morning and I heard the voice of the owl whispering, translating for himself. “Life is tender, sweet girl. Life is tender. It is precious and must be protected, but it is fragile and must not be crushed. Hold it close, but hold it loose.”
Sunday, November 09, 2014
There are so many ways to measure the movement of the year. The temperature of the breeze that comes wafting across the field, the color of the vegetation along the fence rows, the birdsongs or lack thereof. Each of them in one way or another announces the passage of time from one season to another. But breezes and briars and birds can be deceptive. Wet summer winds can demand a sweater. Rain can make an autumn ditch run like spring. Birds can get confused.
Light never gets confused.
I remember, sometime in the last week of August, pulling up to the stop sign at the intersection of what Adam and Kate always called the middle sized road and Highway 301, the thoroughfare Daddy remembers as a dirt road, that I remember as a two-lane blacktop, that now fans out across four lanes and a median for most of its way into town. The whirly-gig of my mind was spinning from one thing to another: Would the 11 o'clock meeting end in time for me to make the 12 o'clock meeting? How high must the humidity be today to make those fat drops of water rolling off the roof of the house onto the hydrangea leaves sound like the flop of a big old toad frog? Should I stop for gas before work or after?
There was a lot of traffic. Both ways. So I had to sit still. I had to sit still and stare into the sun stuck just above the image of the horizon and I realized it was not where it was the week before. It was casting longer shadows. Its color was transforming from the clear blue-white light of summer to the mellower yellower light of fall. Already.
It was still hot at the time. Run the air conditioner hot. Walk barefoot to the mailbox hot. Wear sleeveless dresses hot. The geraniums on the front porch were still blooming. The leaves on the sycamore were still green. The peanuts were still in the field. It still felt like summer. But the light was saying differently. The light was not confused. The light knew that the year is waning.
I did not.
Well, actually I did, of course. I know how to read a calendar. But I chose to ignore the facts and live in denial of the inevitable, a situation that has left me this week rummaging through the closet in the guest room looking for warmer clothes, trying to remember how to work the heater in the car, and asking myself, as I scour the house for everything with an LED display, why exactly is it that I am changing all the clocks to a time one hour ago to re-experience again the hour I just lived. Believe me, there was nothing particularly worth reliving about that hour.
It is not the first time I have chosen obliviousness over enlightenment, ignorance over knowledge, unconsciousness over discernment. It is not the first time I have stood in direct sunlight and declared, “I don’t see a thing.” And it is not a big leap to predict it will not be the last.
I wish it were not so. I wish that I, like light, could not be confused. I wish that discombobulation was beyond my capacity. I wish that no matter what happened I could count on myself to be “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible.” I am not, though, a huge ball of flaming gases. I do not cast shadows and spark photosynthesis. I do not exert a gravitational pull on anything. I am a singular being who imagines herself motionless as she flies through space at over a thousand miles per hour.
I will never be light. I will always teeter on the edge of bewilderment. And, as I teeter, the best I can do is point my gaze toward the horizon and search out the sun.