I don’t usually let myself see signs. I don’t believe in reasons. My friend Diane did not die of brain cancer for a reason. She just died, like we all do. Rocky was not born with a heart defect for a reason. What human-shaped god would put that on a little girl? I’m sure the true believers have an explanation – in fact, I’ve heard it. I don’t buy it. Rocky has a heart defect because kids get born with heart defects. It’s not a sign, it’s nature, which is god, which is just the way things swirl. We can make of a situation whatever we need, whatever we’re ready to dance with. Signs, reasons and magic are for people who want to believe the pretty lie.
But the animals tell me a different story. I can’t explain it. The enormous red doe I kept having close encounters with up on the island, with the indescribable eyes I somehow recognized. The seagulls who swirled, silently circling and circling, dozens of them, the day my powerful grandmother died. The cats I keep seeing in the shadows, darting through the dark between trees. Calling with loons on lonely dark existential-teenager nights; owls and eagles, dogs and cats; even a cottonmouth on the bank of the Colorado – these creatures I’ve encountered all have seemed to have something to tell me. It’s just my imagination, right?
I was just flushed out of my quiet house and onto my dark second-story porch by a very unusual sound – the call of a chuck-will’s-widow. It’s a bird, a nightjar, related to nighthawks and whipporwills. I peered around at the dark silhouettes against the evening sky until I found it, perched on the telephone pole by my house, framed by the shadows of leafy trees. “Chuck-will’s-widow!” it called, loud and clear and sweet. I found myself in the most beautiful state of awe – a feeling I had forgotten, surrounded as I am by traffic and dump trucks and work and other spirit-dulling things. I see it in Rocky’s face often, and wish I could feel it too, every time. As a child, filled with childhood magic, I could see the the one-dimensionality, the plodding-forward, in the adults around me. I vowed never to let it happen to me. I delayed adulthood as long as I could, but it caught up with me, engulfed me, before I knew what was happening. I’ve felt like there are bricks in me, weighing down my flightless body. Confined to a new life in the cage with the rest of you big-heads.
But the animals. Messengers? I can’t help it. I struggle against the feeling that there was meaning in my encounter with the chuck, and something inside me is shaky. Both of us, out there in the dark together, each acutely aware of the other – something transpired, something was passed between us. I recognized something of myself, up there in the sky, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. The gift, the message, a memory – that we are a part of everything, and that Little Blue is still alive, filled with awe and wonder and the ability to talk to the animals, to become very, very still inside, to remember the quiet language of all living things.