Sunday, May 17, 2009


On the south side of the lake, not too far from the prairie dog town, where the first of the trees spring up along the water's edge--my precious Russian Olives among them--I have spent the last several weeks watching two magpies build an enormous nest in the heart of a young elm tree, at the juncture between its trunks and three solid boughs. For a long time it has been a silent thing, like some forgotten and useless organ, flimsy looking and not very practical. But the magpies, purple in some light, an astonishing blue in others, but always mostly black and white, have been persistent and diligent gathering sticks and twigs and all manner of grasses and binding them together with mud. Yesterday, as Duncan and I strolled along the shore, we were awarded for their work by the feeble calls of a nest full of hatchlings. We stood a long moment under the tree watching the parents come and go, swooping low and gliding from the taller neighboring trees down to the nest. Upon their arrival the little ones erupted in a chorus of want and need and I could imagine five or six bald, pink heads rising up from a mass of grass and feathers, supported by impossibly thin and wavering necks. We stood there a long time as the other walkers passed us on the trail, Duncan sitting at the trunk looking up as a does when he's treed a squirrel, waiting for a glimpse of the singers, their parents chattering as they worked.

Neither of us could sleep last night. We'd had a full day of cleaning, long walks, a long bath and what seemed hours of brushing, and even though sleep came easily with Duncan's head perched on my hip as we cuddled on the couch, it did not last. When I finally dragged myself to bed a little after two, Duncan and the kittens padding down the hall after me, I was unable to drift off again. Duncan curled up on his big wide pillow at the foot of the bed and it seemed the two of us spent a good deal of time turning and sighing before the persistent call of an owl outside my window convinced us we needed to venture back outside for a starlight walk.

It was a cool night but still warmer than the days we had only a few weeks ago. The sky, which was supposed to have been cloudy was clear, and the Big Dipper has finally began to rotate into her summer spot. The sprinklers were turning on and off at the edges of the parking lots and hissed and misted around us. And from some unseen vantage our owl continued to call. Even after we'd stepped across the street and skirted the edge of the park––silent and glowing orange under the lamp posts–– the owl followed us. Duncan kept his nose low to the ground, not pulling as he is wont to do when he is more awake, and while I watched for the coyotes and fox which claim the park not long after the rest of us relinquish it to the night I also kept my eyes peeled for signs of our owl, which must've followed us. Its call did not fade the further away from home we moved but stayed always above and quite nearby concealed in shadow and the new growth in the trees.

Thirty minutes we walked with our invisible friend, serenaded by the coming summer. And once we returned home, climbing the thirty-seven stairs before falling into bed, the owl fell silent and let us find our dreams.

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