Nearly midnight. Lifting my feet up the subway steps onto West 12th Street. Heading home. A full moon pokes a hole in the city sky. Millie, my corgi, is probably leaning against my door, chin on paws, occasionally blowing out her cheeks in what always seems like a resigned sigh.
This late night frazzle, pushing through to the end of the academic year, reminds me why I started watching birds – to trade chock-a-block bleary scheduling for a snow globe landscape that I can shake up, but then,perchance, see how it all settles on its own.
Heading west, my step nearly crushes the small sideways body of a Black-and-white Warbler on the sidewalk. In the brightness of a night like this, how could it have crashed into the gleaming white tile of the O’Toole Building, its overbite teeth glistening?After wintering in the Yucatan, surely this was not the end this natty fellow imagined for his Monday night out on the town, wakefully dreaming his way toward summer in the Adirondacks with his girl, eating fat bugs and begetting a new nestful of youngsters.
I want to set up little Police Line Do Not Cross barricades and outline the body on the sidewalk with a felt marker. However instead, I take a paper napkin from my pocket, feeling the lurch from my backpack as I stoop to pick up the little domino. A domino tile. That’s about how heavy he feels as I fold him, his eye still unfaded, his checkerboard wings tidily furled, into a tiny origami package. I continue west, the warbler again airborne, but this time under my volition, not his own.
I pass tonight’s Edward Hopper tableau in The Village Den. Across the street, ghosts of the window marionettes from the long-gonerestaurant Day-O peek out at me,overlaying the latest late-night conviviality of Monument Lane. The exhausted machines of the Equinox glow out into the quiet night.
It is quiet tonight. Not like the morning rush of pigeon wings, the daytime sparrow brawls, the starlings’ aural gridlock and the Blue Jay skirmishes block to block. I hear my sneakers scuffingthe sidewalk.
A midnight bicyclist rumbles past rushing to make his pizza delivery before it cools. A tearful breakup brimming with remorse and distain spills down astoop. Snagged on a low branch, a plastic bag exhales.A red door glows.
How have I come to know that the zebra-striped wayfarer now folded into my hand is, indeed, a Black-and-white Warbler? Tonight,I don’t have the wherewithalto piece together the wholeChutes and Ladderstale, but six years ago, a Glossy Ibis winging up the East River across a sunset was the beginning. Well, not the beginning of the tale, but the beginning, for me, of the birds.
A cupcake sprawls over the curb out of its box from Magnolia Bakery. Millie would love that.
Now, those six years of birding adventuresfollow me along this quiet street: the cherubim of hummingbirds on the switchbacks coming down from Machu Picchu, hearing but never seeing my first Nightingale singing deep within a bramble near Versailles, penguins surfing house-high waves off of Peru, a photo taken in The Bronx with my cell phone of a Barnacle Goose that turned out to be a record-setteroff course from Iceland, Puffins and humbling torrents of Northern Gannets above Scottish isles.
As I turn onto Hudson Street, an off-duty cab slows to see if one more fare might ease his way out of Manhattan while the grand Willow Oaks from a previous century rustle above the traffic shushed by the stop lights. The glittering rise of the new Trade Center shimmers into view through its forever settling dust.
How to give my little black and white talisman a suitable benediction? Go west, young man.
I find a place in a flower box on Perry Street between a flaming coleus and a begonia.
“Now cracks a noble heart…”
A star-drunkmockingbird is still singing his lusty repertoire from the roof of my building. I’ve heard there are fresh Robin and Catbird chicks on the lawns by the river. I’ll go see them with Millie tomorrow.
I turn the key in my lock.
I open the door.