November 20, 2014
On the Genehouse walk, the air is sharp. The sun is cloud-cloaked, light escaping its flimsy white negligee, and kinglets glow grey-orange and bluejays are ornamental. The afternoon is soft and the breeze is coldsoft, and acorn caps rise sideways and roll on edges along the path.
Warmer days are coming, perhaps awakening hibernators from new sleep. A wave of fat robins runs down the Stroke Hill slopes and into the meadow where I see fairy rings in summer. It is a bad day to be a sunning worm.
The coal smoke from the power plant forms marshmallow shapes and blows parallel to the horizon, reflecting in the glassy river. I can see a line of parked barges downstream, waiting for their turn in the lock and dam. I turn left into La Vista Park and the air is colder, shadowy, the creek frozen, its smooth surface looking like window glass.
Thirty feet up the path, a squirrel with a nut in its jaws wheels and stares and sits up— and this is its last breath, I am the last living thing it sees in this last millisecond, for a great horned owl swoops down the left slope of the bluff and explodes the creature and lifts off, the squirrel’s body dangling limply, and small birds gang up and beak the owl’s head to no avail, and there is no sound, for the owl’s wings are serrated, and then the tiny birds shriek and three crows fly in from the right and caw a racket. This afternoon, I have seen the opaline eyes of Death.
I think of the September day when I was out walking and pain slammed my chest and I stopped and tried to see the invisible fist which was punching me, and I walked on home, marveling at the heretofore unknown sensation, finally talking to my nurse friends Kim and Michele on the phone and learning I was having a heart attack—mild to be sure, but when it’s your heart mild is small comfort. And a week later my stent is put in and I realize I can die. Heart attacks can be like great horned owls, death by stealth.
Not a single morning has passed since then, where I didn’t sit up in bed and say or think, “I’m alive.” And scientists are taking seriously the theory that all of us may live in millions of parallel universes, each life similar but taking different tacks. So . . .
So, this day, a squirrel was grabbed and eaten, the same squirrel saw the owl and ducked and told its children the tale, the same squirrel threw its hickory nut and bonked the owl’s head, the owl and the squirrel shared the nut at tea.
Had I not seen the act, did it happen? Are the things we see inventions? So the: black wolf last fall, three copperheads of summer, bobcat loping across my yard at sunrise, thousand white pelicans of spring, rubythroated hummingbirds pecking at my window to get my attention, wild dog that bit me, half dozen giant wolf spiders that sun on my front porch, red shouldered hawks and redheaded woodpeckers and red cardinals and red housefinches, obsidian rat snake stretched across the road that I put around my neck and got a massage, chickadees that perch on my shoulder, snapping turtles I relocated off the River Road—are illusions?
The sun has shed its negligee and falls into the river. The breeze rests from its labors. The naked wintery earth glues itself stiff. I look out the window to the south. On the road below me a beautiful woman in a flimsy white negligee sheds it and waves, her body the color of porcelain.
I am alive.