Friday, June 14, 2002

Right now there is a coyote howling outside my window. I heard it walking through the back yard, disturbing brush as it noisily traipsed through a path between my house and the next door neighbor's. It was unconcerned with the noise it was making, as it is a predator with only the mountain lions to fear. We are too far down for many mountain lion sightings, but the coyotes are regular nightly visitors. And, many times like tonight they howl into the darkness.

A couple of minutes later, another one walked through the path and the leader fell silent. I sprung up from my chair with my flashlight and tried unsuccessfully to catch sight of them. As usual, they are heard and not seen, and I think that is what is so unnerving. They are like forlorn and restless spirits, wailing a sad song in the night as they walk the earth, their curse to be heard and not seen except by others of their kind. As I type, a chorus of coyotes, near and far are howling. It's eerie and beautiful at the same time.

One night, around this time a terrified shriek from a child interrupted the silence. It pierced through my skin and goosebumps rose immediately on my arms. I froze, unable to act. My quiet night had become suddenly unsafe and terrifying. I did not jump to the window this time, but sat still, breathing hard and tensed. It screamed again, then fell silent. As I sat in the dark in my bed with the covers pulled to my chin, I realized that it wasn't a child, but a rabbit that had become prey. The thought of that terrified me, and still unnerves me when I think about it. A life suddenly cut short, a rabbit, screaming in terror as it is attacked. I think what unnerved me so much was that the line between primal and human instinct seemed very blurred at that moment. Whatever attacked it, probably a coyote or owl, needed to eat. The rabbit didn't want to die, so it screamed...twice. Jesus Christ, it still gives me the creeps.

I have one nocturnal neighbor that I haven't been able to identify yet. It's obviously a bird, but what kind, I have no idea. It makes the sound of a hawk, but hawks are day hunters and the screech is a bit more shrill than that. To describe it the best, it sounds like a bat's screech that has been turned up in volume a few notches. I have no idea what it is, as screech owls aren't really prevalent in this area. Sometimes I imagine it's a lost gargoyle, flying solo in the night.

One of my favorite night visitors is the owl that hoots every so often as it rests atop trees or rooftops. I can just see it's big round eyes as they survey the landscape. I feel a kinship to it because I too am a night owl. I haven't seen him yet, but can't wait until the night we cross paths. Owls are just fascinating creatures, and many times they are brazen and curious.

A couple of years ago, my friend Emma and I were walking the neighbor's dog through the Hollywood Hills by the Hollywood sign. This was when I lived in the Hollywood Hills, and frequented the many paths and horse trails in the hills. We were walking at dusk on a wide dirt path, when I felt a rush of air above my head. I looked up to see a large owl flying low to land. It's huge wing span cloaked the pink sky as it passed over my head, and it kept company with us, landing on branches that were eye level and watching us as we passed. It was unafraid, and seemed to want the company and know we were of no danger to it. At times it would land just feet from us on a fallen tree branch and stare at us. That night was one of those experiences that I know I'll treasure forever. I felt honored and humbled, being accompanied by such a regal and mysterious bird who was making such an effort to make its presence known to us. It was as if the owl had chosen us to follow and was welcoming us into it's environment, and to be that close to it on a warm night under the setting sun was simply magical and made me pause to thank God for being alive.

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