There was a pair of dead baby birds outside your studio door with ants picking through their sticky wet down. An innocuous trickle of bodily fluids led my eye to them and I paused, trying to figure out which neck belonged to which – they were nestled as if still in their nest. I pointed, and you said you’d heard them all day yesterday and wondered why there had been silence today. Later, there was a regular plaintive coo from somewhere outside as we talked about birds, boredom, and our 20s.
Late June found me in New Hampshire, cutting through half-known forests and little towns. I had just arrived and was being driven from Manchester to Franklin by way of Boscawen, the Father Land. As the sun bore westward, it intensified the stark umber of pine trunks on the west while shifting those to the east from blue to warm orange. An owl broke the static front of trees on the left, targeted the car for a few hundred feet, and then veered upward. I was the only one to react.
The night my New Hampshirian grandmother died five years ago, an owl collided with my kitchen window and looked me in the eye. Occasionally, I’ll share that story with the wrong person who makes a measly offering of “oh what, so you’re one of those people who thinks people can come back as animals?” to which I usually reply, “Well, who knows. Next topic, you unappreciative shmuck.” and the conversation will progress to things more concrete. But look, unless owls regularly make a thing of zooming out of the New Hampshire forests at the visiting granddaughters of deceased owl lovers, and in the peak hours of sunlight, then it’s probably true so just shut up.
I saw you as a little bird, alighting from rock to rock in your worn red sneakers. You were joyful as a chick still growing out his down who has just figured out how to glide rather than plummet. You are still light in ways I’m no longer, though maybe could be with enough of your friendship. You slowed down for me, darted off, and returned. You scuffled shells gently with your toes, bent and brought them closer for me to see, searched for ones I’d never seen, and spoke of pearls. “It’s really special,” you enthused, “when it’s still whole and you can find a pearl inside.” I knew, of course, but your younger wonder or maybe just your gift of pure attention to people and things made me gasp something less knowledgeable. Soon, your hair was crusted with salt and wilder and you flitted away as sunlight broke through the mist and the hills glowed green. The next week, an inquisitive gull on another island reminded me of you.
They are streaming to the left: north south, I don’t know. I’m not there with the ageless flock. There is a roiling pitch of gurgles with rising crescendos and surges in urgency – the energy at a constant tick upward. In the asynchronous elegance, there is a need for greater movement – an anxiety to be freed from one plane, to shift up and down as a massive bellows, to flee and flee again. No pauses to be had, and no shouted directions, only a shared singular surge in an unspoken effort to get from here to there quickly, as one, intact. A gunshot sounds and the mass tightens, tenses, drops in a miniscule delay. The camera falls with them in the new silence, like a twitch passed one to another. The right is invaded by a cloudy opaqueness and the murmurated ranks break for an instant before rushing forward with greater speed, momentary clumsiness, hands over necks, running running toward the hope of wings. The camera quits before flight’s end.