Night Moves

Off in the distance I catch the baritone “Whoo, who-who-whoo” of a Great-horned owl emerging from the dark silence of the night. In reality the night is neither dark nor silent. Insects drone, stars twinkle and a moon is rapidly appearing through the lace edging of the chaparral. It is the time of night when most people are thinking of pulling the blinds, closing the doors and turning on the lights.

They are not alone in their retreat when the sun goes down. The quail, now mostly adolescents replacing the tiny chicks of early summer, come down for a final drink from the pond before disappearing until dawn. Other birds take their turn too. In the bird world only the owl and the poor-will (that flies up in alarm from the road when danger threatens its young) seem to relish—or tolerate—the night, flying up in alarm from the road when danger appears and threatens their young.

After a decorous pause the owl is treated to an answer to its question. A pitch or two higher and several trees closer, a similar quartet of “who-whoos” is clearly sounded in response. A conversation ensues, each owl answering from a slightly different angle as they scout out the territory. Coming closer and closer, at last a shadow passes noiselessly above in the now-risen moon and perches atop a telephone pole. The pair will be back for a night or two and then vanish. But they will return in a month or six weeks after touring the territory they claim as their own. And who among us would say it is not?

A shape emerges from the bushes. It is large and round and dark and seems to roll along the ground. Behind comes another, and then a third. Clearly they know where they are going and head for the garbage can, securely fastened with a bungee cord. The largest shape rises up and the can goes down. Another climbs on and, like a lumberjack in a river full of logs, rolls it into the drive. At last, frustrated at their failure to reveal the treasures inside, this raccoon trio, the bandits of the night, gives up and heads for the pond. They slosh and they splash in the moonlight knocking down cattails and churning up mud until it’s time to move on. With one last hope at finding a meal they climb the porch steps and peer in through the screen. Leaving muddy footprints for dawn to discover, they melt back into the shadows with scarcely a sound.

Deer move fearlessly through the meadow. Some of my flowers that bloomed during daylight will be decapitated before the stars go out. A lone bat scoops up insects along an erratic path through the sky.

There are nights when coyotes howl in the distance, mornings when I find leaves of lettuce or cabbage in the garden with holes in them that were not there the night before.

Lights go on in a few houses down the valley. Down the trail in the moonlight I see the shadow of a couple walking slowly, holding hands. The night is has a little something for everyone.

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