I pick up Claire from soccer and then Emme from her friend’s house after a French lesson. The sun is setting as we head for home. As I turn onto the bottom of our road the car suddenly starts jolting rhythmically and I pull over. The rear passenger tire has blown out completely. I restart the car and on three tires we gingerly make our way the remaining three quarters of a mile up the hill to the house.
Half an hour later, Kim and I are out in the driveway in the dark with lanterns and flashlights, replacing the tire for an early morning trip to Wilson’s Tires. We are nearly done when there is rush of air in the leaves behind us. We turn and shine a flashlight into a small maple tree at the edge of the driveway. A good-sized barred owl is sitting there, no more than ten feet away, staring at us unblinkingly. I run to the house for the girls and when we come out it is still there. We watch it for a while, marveling at the brown and white streaked plumage of its breast, the yellow hook of its beak, its large dark eyes. After several minutes we turn back to the tire and the owl is almost soundlessly gone.
Some time later, the tire fixed and dinner done, I go back out of the house into the night. I feel my way across the lawn, blinded, and find the ladder by touch. By the time I am halfway up the tree my eyes have adjusted, and I begin to make out shapes and shadows. I stand at the top of the tree and listen. After a few minutes I hear a barred owl calling, but it is distant, faint, coming from some far hill. I imagine our owl gliding across fields, winging tree to tree through the shadowy woods, making its silent way to that distant hillside, and calling back through the night; but I know that the one I am hearing is some other owl. Still, I feel strangely connected to it.
I listen for several minutes–a few minutes feels much longer, time becomes elastic and stretches out almost endlessly in the dark–and then feel my way down from the tree and head back to the brightly lit house.