Snow already. Middle of November and the trees are almost bare. Pumpkins wear little caps of fallen snow, and remaining leaves curl and crunch under our feet. I went for a walk in the woods and spotted a bird soaring overhead. Huge, fluffy feathers, “What was that?” We walked off the path and found him stoically sitting on top of a tall tree, “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo” we sang. He turned his head, large black eyes looked through the branches and limbs, directly at us. “Yes?” He seemed to say. “What is it you are looking for?” He then turned the other way. We were far more amazed by him than he was of us.
It’s moments like these that are gifted moments. When owls are spotted and snowflakes kiss our eye lashes, that time suddenly, mercifully, stops and we pause and wonder at the moment.
My 99 year old grandfather is in the autumn of his life. His skin is like the wrinkled leaves we walk upon. He sleeps under a white blanket in a nursing home, for hours and hours, waking for a small bite to eat or a round of medicine. I think of his long life, almost a century of living. Born into poverty. Losing his mother at the age of seven, raised by a brash father and steadfast grandmother. Catching raccoons and squirrels for supper, fishing in the pond, working in the field, putting out house fires, quitting school at 8th grade, leaving home at 17.
I think of his joy when he got the job on the railroad. A job. A job. A job. A Lineman, a Fireman, an Engineer. The loud roar of the engine would eventually take his hearing. He rode the Burlington line from Galesburg to Aurora for over 30 years.
He kept a garden, took apart cars, went dumpster diving to see if he could repair what others threw away.
But more than anything, he never forgot what it felt like to be child. We would explore deep woods, find treasures in his basement, and see how high we could climb trees. He was always fully present. He also brought his imagination. And at night, I would lie between my grandparents, under their crisp, ironed sheets and Grandpa would tell stories about his childhood and how he and Grandma met and she would lean her head way back, closing her eyes, and laugh, until little tears seeped from her wrinkles. He would tell stories and grandma would laugh and I was completely loved.
The owl looked at me with his large, black eyes and beckoned me to remember moments like these.