We lost a family friend last Saturday. I suppose if it had to happen, the timing was appropriate, being New Year’s Eve, since we were planning on seeing the old year out, with Auld Lang Syne, and all that jazz.
Our owl, a Great Horned species we’d named Hedwig, lived in a ponderosa pine tree, forty feet high, on the north side of the house. I know, you can’t claim ownership to an owl; they’re unfettered creatures, untamed and wild, claiming their territorial right to your yard, their sky. She’d lived there pretty much as long as we had, close to ten years, and rarely a night passed where we didn’t hear her, hooting. It’s a reassuring sound, sombre and serious, but not in a haunting way. The note always ended on an upswing. “I’m here,” she’d let us know. “Back from hunting. It was great! Lots of mice tonight!” We knew that she was a successful hunter; the pine needles beneath the great tree were littered with tiny mouse bones, any resemblance to a furry rodent stripped clean.
Sometimes, out in the yard at night to take in trash cans, or retrieve the mail earlier forgotten, she’d follow us from tree to tree, plaintively reminding us she was there, watching our comings and goings much as we listened for hers, that whoosh of massive wings, controlling the air.
Unfortunately, even a majestic bird with steely talons can be outmatched by winds which reached upwards of 65 miles an hour that day. Either she missed her landing, or was blown into her tree; we found her nestled in pine needles on the ground, inert.
I find wind fascinating, but it drives me crazy. It’s the one form of weather that exhausts, rattles my brains, tires me out. And yet, watching the graceful synchronicity of a windmill ballet along Highway I-80 in Nebraska, mesmerized as the towering blades reach out to comb the sky, harnessing its power, I acknowledge wind’s usefulness. These are not windmills against which I’d tilt. There would be no reason to do it. And while there are many times when I find myself swimming upstream in a visionary battle against the tides of authority, these windmills serve a beautiful purpose. They give us light.
It’s sort of funny, how my mom used to direct us to “turn off the lights!” Wherever we’d been in the house, we could leave no recollection of our presence, because that imprint cost pennies. Even so, much as moths in summer, we humans are drawn to the light, seeking out its promise of warmth in the darkness of winter.
We found light last week at the Denver Botanic Gardens in their annual holiday display, Blossoms of Light. For near an hour, we wandered the chilly paths, lost in romantic reverie, marveling at what we so often take for granted: turning on a switch, and — insta-electricity! I marveled also at the less quixotic aspects of the show; it’s quite the feat of engineering to snake all those cords, hidden from public view, across acres of the frozen garden’s grounds. Even more amazing, none of the paths were cluttered with wires which we visitors could trip over. I’m a total klutz; I trip over things which don’t even exist. Of course, it helps that it’s dark outside when they flip the switch; that’s a bit of smoke and mirrors we can all benefit from. I realize, this is what they hire electricians for, persons of the sort who can do more than drape a string of lights across a gate, plug the cord into a conveniently placed outlet attached to said gate, and call it good. And while the foregoing accurately describes our limp attempts at seasonal cheeriness, the Blossoms show, and the Botanical Gardens, are in the entertainment business. We’re just selling lemonade by the roadside.
They do more than sell lemonade. While strolling, garden visitors can sip hot chocolate or cider, and nibble hot nuts, these last receiving a wheelbarrow full of below-the-belt comments. I’d repeat some of the wittier ones here, but then, I’m trying to keep this blog family friendly. Plug in your imagination and you’ll figure it out.
So, here’s a taste, a brief visit to share.
Auld Lang Syne says goodbye to the year past, but is also played at funerals, to bid farewell to a friend. We’ll remember Hedwig in many places. Her tree, listening for the soft hooting that won’t issue forth out of the darkness. We’ll also remember Hedwig when we see the lights of winter, reminding us that there is good that comes from wind. At times, we do need to turn out the lights. Goodnight, Hedwig. Sleep tight.
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