Wednesday, November 7, 2007


There are pockets in the night that reveal secrets and sudden nuggets of wonder that can be stumbled upon and, if you're not paying attention, passed through without notice. Tonight's pockets were deep and luckily Duncan and I were willing to explore and revel in them without any sense of urgency. It was not cold, there was no wind, and we were able to enjoy our walk in the quiet of Clement Park at our own pace.

One of my favorite things while walking is unexpectedly stumbling upon the Downey scent of someone doing their laundry. The drier vents at the buildings in our complex are on the back side nearest the street and sometimes, if we're lucky, we catch a whiff of warm fabric softener on the air. Sometimes it lasts only a few seconds and other times I can stand with my eyes closed in the park across the street and breath it in. I don't know what it is about Downey, but perhaps it reminds me home. My first year at Lake Forest I looked forward to my Sunday nights trapped in the laundry room, washing clothes and catching up on my reading. The smell of drier sheets made me feel connected to something in a place where I had yet to forge connections. And although I don't miss that isolation I felt my first semester, I miss that part of me that yearned for home, the part I lost when I made my own home. Tonight the air was rich with Downey and I didn't mind Duncan's unending sniffing along the hedges or in the dark corners of the buildings. I simply followed him and followed my nose.

I'd taken a jacket for our walk but as we moved through the park I took it off and tucked it under my arm. The night was warm and the stars were bright and it felt good to take deep breaths and close my eyes as Duncan guided me. As I tossed the ball for him, which more often than not I had to chase down because he hadn't seen where it landed, I stepped through pockets of cool air that brought a quick rush to the exposed skin of my face and arms, and then, as quickly as I'd stumbled into it, I stumbled back out into the strange warmth of this November night.

On the other side of the baseball field Duncan found a stick, not quite perfect, but one that so captivated him he couldn't part with it. Although it was nearly perfect in girth and was smooth to the touch, it was easily five feet long–more of a staff than a stick–and not easy to carry. I dropped the leash and watched as he lifted it in his jaws, raised his head up and attempted to keep either end from touching the ground. He carried it a few yards before deciding it would be best to stop and chew on it. So he did and there was nothing I could do to move him from his spot. I sat down next to him, scratched his belly while he gnawed on the end of the thing. After thirty minutes or so I finally pulled it away from him and managed to carry it over my head as he hopped along beside me in an effort to reclaim his prize as we continued our walk through the park.

Up top, near the playground, we stopped at a tree and I happened to look up and directly into the large golden eyes of an owl, which had taken roost on a limb just above me. Its head swiveled in that strange raptor way, blinked and looked past me, at the low hedges, maybe looking for a mouse or something else small and warm. It was a big thing and dark brown, almost invisible against the night, except for those eyes. It cocked its head and when Duncan finally saw it and climbed against the trunk of the tree the owl fell forward, unfolded its wings and glided silently to the next tree where it landed–higher this time–without a sound. We followed it and I couldn't help but feel as though we were infringing upon something sacred, maybe something dark, something beautiful I shouldn't know about. But I couldn't help it. It had moved with such silence and ease that I was reminded how lucky I was to walk upright in the daylight and not scurry in the shadows, a meal with a tail. I watched it scrutinize us, which felt somehow special, as if we'd caught the attention of something royal, but when it looked away I felt small and unimportant, unworthy and uninteresting. A woman and her beagle passed quite near us and neither of us pointed out the bird; instead we kept it to ourselves, our secret gift of the night.

It was hard to come home, difficult to cross Bowles with a jumping dog leashed on one arm and a walking stick balanced overhead in the other. I did not want it to end and wondered what other gems were out there waiting to be discovered, things that only Duncan and I were meant to share.

If not tonight, maybe soon.

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