Sunday, January 11, 2009

Who Cooks for You?

Saturday night I went out with some old friends from high school to hang out and catch up a little before they headed back to college. We intended to go bowling, but we ended up shooting pool and dining at Steak ‘n’ Shake. It was nice to see them and hear what everyone’s been up to—all the various majors that we’re branching into and our diverse college experiences. It was also nice to see that even though we hadn’t talked in many months, we still had enough in common that we could talk and joke and have a good time. We haven’t drifted that far apart…yet.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable evening, and I didn’t start home until it was fairly late. I didn’t notice anything too spectacular until I exited the highway and drove off down the winding country roads through my town. Everything was unbelievably clear, as though illuminated by streetlights, even though there were none. I didn’t even need my brights to safely navigate the bends. I figured it had to be the full moon making things so brilliant, but no matter how I craned my neck, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of that celestial body. Finally, a quarter hour before midnight, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore, so I pulled off onto a side road near a bridge over a creek (the same place I saw the heron and ducks several weeks ago). I turned off my car and stepped outside into the bitter night air—and it was bitterly cold indeed. My wool jacket didn’t do a thing to protect me from the elements, and my jeans had never felt so woefully thin.

Never mind that, though. God, it was beautiful. The sky was deep, dark blue, the color of spilt ink. The naked black tree trunks reached up, and the round, snowy white moon peeked out from between their branches. I looked around. I felt odd, out here all by myself, on a deserted country road, a mile from the nearest house, by a whispering creek, at midnight. But I didn’t feel a bit unsafe, either, because I could see and hear everything. Indeed, it was so bright that I could even make out some traces of color, despite the lack of any form of artificial luminescence. My shadow on the road was perfectly clear and defined, and contrasted darkly with the asphalt. The only noises were the clicks and protests of my car behind me, the gurgling of the creek (I could hear, but not see, the moving water), the lowing of Farmer Such-and-Such’s cattle, and—Who cooks for you?—a barred owl.

I recognized the call, but not the name of the bird, so I had to look it up. Along the way, I stumbled across this poem by a certain Richard Wilbur:

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

I kinda like it—it’s rather interesting. Owls are fascinating, too, though I don’t know much about them. All we’ve got out here are great horned owls and barred owls, like I heard last night. Both of their calls are paradoxically haunting and comical. In the summer I’d sometimes step out on the deck to catch the last frenzied notes of a great horned owl’s who-who-whoing as he crescendo’ed and accelerando’ed to his final point.

[Side note: Another one of my Christmas presents was a book called Wesley the Owl, which I read and enjoyed. Don’t go out and buy it—wait ‘til it comes out in paperback, or get it at the library, or just take my word for it. It was a decent book, but nothing spectacular as far as Touching Animal Stories go. While it’s not particularly well-written, the story itself (about a woman who adopts and raises a barn owl for 19 years) is fascinating and sheds light on all sorts of animal-related issues. Birds (and really all critters) are a lot more intelligent and emotionally-developed than we give them credit for. The author claims that Wesley could even understand many English phrases (including the concept of two hours time!), and I don’t think she’s making it up.]

Well, anyway, I digress. It was pretty last night, that’s all. I walked over the bridge and separated the various night noises until the cold drove me back to my car and I finished the drive home. As I drove back, though, the thought that’s been nagging me these past few months drifted back to the forefront of my mind. I’m changing. I’m not the person I was five years ago, or last year, or even six months ago, really. Never in the past would I have dropped everything to stand out in 20 degree weather and gaze, wide-eyed, at a Natural Wonder. I’ve got places to be, y’know? I’ve to take a shower and then sit by the fire, I've got to read my book, I've got to watch The Office or The Soup, I've got to check my email to see if anyone wants to buy one of my saddles, and I’ve got to hang out on Facebook and all that really important stuff.

Something has possessed me, it’s true, and I don’t know what it is or where it’s coming from, but I’m glad it’s got a hold on me. The night I lay on my back out in the pasture and stared at the stars until I convinced myself that they were all moving, slowing, almost imperceptibly, but moving all the same—that’s something the old me would never have done. I never would have stopped to stare at a sunset until the sky turned peachy-gray, or pulled my car off on a bridge to listen to an owl. But now that I’m partaking in these experiences, it’s as though I’ve gotten a new life perspective. Well, maybe not something quite so profound, but it’s a step in the right direction, nonetheless. Maybe by pausing to appreciate something so simple yet so elegant I’ll somehow find a way to access the divine. I’m not a religious person at all, and I’m only halfway-spiritual, but I want to find an acceptable way to live my life, and maybe the first thing I’ve got to do is look around for some examples of goodness and simplicity. Maybe. But I truly don’t know. I'll just take it as it comes and try to learn from it if I can.

The moon was so bright that as I sat and typed at my laptop in the upstairs room, the borrowed glow burst through the skylight and painted a rectangle on the carpet beneath my desk.

That is all.

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