Archive for the ‘Mary Oliver’ Tag
The foothills near our home are covered in sagebrush and scrub oak. A trail system for bikers, joggers, and horses winds upward through the scraggly growth, sometimes exposing startled creatures that make their homes in the hills. I’ve seen mountain bluebirds, magpies, rabbits, bats, and have fortunately avoided the rattlesnakes other mountain bikers have come across. When I’m up in the hills alone, I tend to ride quickly, not looking around. The truth is, and I’ve never admitted this, I’m afraid that one of these times I’ll run into a cougar. I even bring my ipod when I ride alone, to distract me from thinking about mountain lion teeth and claws.
The other evening I was riding through the hills a little closer to dusk than I would have liked. Places where the path passed under clusters of trees, the shadows felt ominous. I cranked my ipod up a little louder.
And then a heavy movement from above my head stopped me in my tracks. I braked quickly and looked up to see a huge owl, wings outsretched, settling into a perch in the branches of a scrub oak.
I shut off my ipod and inched my bike closer to the tree. The owl folded in its gray wings and hunched down between twigs and branches. Two scrappy birds, what my husband calls camp crows, shot out of the tree and began haranguing the owl with a loud and incessant cawing. The owl continued his hunch, hostile and irritated like a grumpy old man. The birds kept squawking at the owl, shouting at him to get up and move. Finally the owl couldn’t stand it any longer and lifted its expansive wings. That simple movement communicated a swiftness and power that belied the sleepiness of the great bird, and I wondered at the crows audacity in hassassing him like they did.
He flew east, and I pedaled in the opposite direction, awed by my encounter with nature – magnificent and rude. I rode the rest of the way home without my ipod, just in case, and when I got home I pulled out OWLS AND OTHER FANTASIES by Mary Oliver. I turned to page 17 and smiled as I read:
I have two feathers from the big owl. One I found near Round Pond; the other, on another day, fell as I watched the bird rise from one tree and flap into another. As the owl rose, some crows caught sight of it, and so began another scrimmage in their long battle. The owl wants to sleep, but the crows pursue it and when it settles a second time the crows – now a dozen – gather around and above it, and scream into its face, with open beaks and wagging tongues. They come dangerously close to its feet, which are huge and quick. The caught crow is a dead crow. But it is not in the nature of crows to hide or cower — it is in their nature to gather and to screech and to gamble in the very tree where death stares at them with molten eyes. What fun, to aggravate the old bomber! What joy, to swipe at the tawny feathers even as the bird puffs and hulks and hisses.
But finally the owl rises from the trees altogether and climbs and floats away, over two or three hills, and the crows go off to some other merriment.
And I walk on, over the shoulder of summer and down across the red-dappled fall; and, when it’s late winter again, out through the far woodlands of the Provincelands, maybe another few hundred miles, looking for the owl’s nest, yes, of course, and looking at everything else along the way.
Earlier this summer we took a family trip to Bear Lake. One evening, sitting on the deck of our cabin, a blur of beating wings interrupted our view of the blue water. I heard it before I saw it – the buzz that tore a hole in the air, slicing it open as neatly and swiftly as a seam ripper. The loud chirrup. And then the tiny flash of beak and feathers. There was a pause of conversation, of thoughts and of words, as we briefly pondered the world of the hummingbird.
HummingbirdsThe female, and two chicks,each no bigger than my thumb,scattered,shimmeringin their pale-green dresses;then they rose, tiny fireworks,into the leavesand hovered;then they sat down,each one with dainty, charcoal feet -each one on a slender branch -and looked at me.I had meant no harm,I had simplyclimbed the treefor something to doon a summer day,not knowing they were there,ready to burst the ledgesof their mossy nestand to fly, for the first time,in their sea-green helmets,with brisk, metallic tails -each tulled wing,with every dollop of flight,drawing a perfect wheelacross the air.Then, with a series of jerks,they paused in front of meand, dark-eyed, stared -as though I were a flower -and then,like three tosses of silvery water,they were gone.Alone,in the crown of the tree,I went to China,I went to Prague;I died, and was born in the spring;I found you, and loved you, again.Later the darkness felland the solid moonlike a white pond rose.But I wasn’t in any hurry.Likely I visted allthe shimmering, heart-stabbingquestions without answersbefore I climbed down.