30 May 2010

The Owl

It was one of those calm early summer evenings when the daylight seemed to stretch impossibly late. And so, after dinner, we all sat looking across the table at one another asking, “What next?”

The girls both wanted to go out for ice cream, and so Dan dusted off Cliff, the 1965 Corvair that has been sitting patiently, forlornly, in the driveway for months (or has it been a year?), waiting to be driven once again. We piled into the car, windows down, and took off for downtown. The cool summer air rushed in, mixed with the peculiar ‘eau de Corvair’ scent: something like exhaust and burning motor oil. We drove down Williamson Valley Road, through the construction where the road is being widened. Where the road dipped the air was noticeably cooler. It finally felt like summer in Prescott, and I was glad.

We parked at the courthouse square. Anyone who comes to Prescott, to live or to visit, feels an instant affinity for the courthouse square. The stone courthouse rises from the center of the block, flanked on all sides by tall elm trees, inviting grassy lawns, and a brick sidewalk. It is an idyllic and charming place, and makes Prescott seem like the small town that it used to be.

As we walked to the ice cream shop, we admired several old cars parked nearby, including an adorable 1959 Metropolitan. Once inside the ice cream shop, Dan chatted with the server about the NBA playoff game on tv there, and then we made our way back to the square. The sun was sinking behind Whiskey Row, but it was not yet dark. We sat on a bench and watched teenagers playing hacky sack. A young couple was hugging near the fountain. People with dogs of many sizes and breeds were all making their way around the square, each at their own pace. A determined old woman with a walker shuffled alone. Security guards were patrolling the shuttered booths for the weekend art fair that was taking place during the daylight.

The temperature was dropping slightly, and I was beginning to feel cold. I suggested that we walk around the courthouse so I could warm up a little. On the west side, one of the security guards was pointing almost straight overhead. I looked up and spied a huge bird in an elm tree.

I knelt to point the bird out to Arden. The security guard said it was a great horned owl fledgling, and that the parents were nearby. We watched as the owl, so high above us, fluffed up its feathers, raised its tail, then called, hoo, hoo, hoo. He did this again and again, looking around, and down at us.

A scruffy man on a bike stopped and told us that earlier an owl had crashed into the window of one of the judge’s offices, breaking its beak. He said that one of the women in the office had taken a co-worker’s suit jacket to retrieve the injured owl, and, “Boy, did that bird make a mess of the jacket.” Then he described how the art show booths below the owls’ nest had been moved to protect people from a potential owl attack. The man rode off, and I wasn’t sure I believed all his stories.

Arden and I walked up the steps nearby to join Dan and Madeleine and gain a better vantage point. It was growing darker, and although we could no longer see the owl’s feathers, its silhouette stood out against the cloudless sky. Its horns appeared and disappeared depending on the angle of its head. Hoo, hoo, hoo. Every time it hooted it would raise its tail and puff up, like it was mustering all of its energy and concentration. We watched, awed by this great bird in the very heart of our little city.

Hoo, hoo, hoo. And then, it stretched itself tall, held the pose for a moment, and took off, flying south and then banked to the east, around the courthouse. Its huge wings were stealthy silent and smoothly beating, and then the owl was gone. We smiled at one another and walked back to the car in the dark silence of the bird’s wake.

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