of owl and innocence

29 September 2001


Birds are moving and diminished sunlight has displaced the greens of summer with the oranges and reds of a decadent photosynthetic process. Yet, as excited as I get when the migration is underway, the events of the past three weeks have left me weary.


For most of the summer, I have been immersed in the Twin Tier area of south central New York. I am working on a developing natural gas storage project, making my daily rounds as the projectís environmental inspector. Intrinsically, I know that renewable resources are the only way to go, but for the sake of brevity, Iíll call it a trade-off. After all, itís gainful employment.


In the time away from my house in the Maine woods, contact with my son Nikky has consisted of phone calls, e-mails, and a conveyor belt of sticker book deliveries from Barnes and Noble. As I played out the intricate movements as a "remote father", I was mindful that Nikky will soon face surgery to correct a degenerative loss of vision in his right eye. When the opportunity arose, I went home to be with him, to allay his fears, to assure him that the world can still be an inviting, receptive place.


We searched for salamanders and snakes and spiders, and when the sun went down, I asked if he wanted to help me trap saw-whets. Within seconds, he had retrieved his headlamp from the closet, deftly turning on the light with a flick of his tiny fingers.


I asked Nikky to sit in the lawn chair as I stretched out the nets. It was not a mistake-free deployment. One net sagged to the ground, clutching a layer of discarded red maple leaves with the adhesion of Velcro. I started to remove them and looked down the row of nets.  Nikky stood there, intent on doing what his dad was doing.   He did not get snagged on the fine mesh; he did not become bored; he did not want to go inside where illumination was abundant. Instead, he wanted to make the nets ready for owls.


When done, we sat in the chair positioned at the end of the nets and turned off our headlamps. Crickets rubbed their wings, tree frogs vocalized, and songbirds moved through the treetops on their journey south. Our ears reveled in the chorus of a waning summer.


Above us, a jet flew towards the mainland from the Old World; itís strobe lights directing a silent approach, but noisy passing. Nikky asked me if the plane was going to crash into a building. I said "no, that only bad people crash into buildings and that there are many more good people in the world than bad people." I had experienced a soon-to-be 4 year olds' awareness, innocence, and fears in one question. 


Nikky rested his head on my shoulder as I stroked his hair and reaffirmed that his daddy and mommy loved him and would always be there for him. His body went limp. When he stirred, I asked if he wanted to go inside but he said, "no, I want to catch owls with you."


Innocence. It rises above the smoke of terrorism and settles like gold dust on a jaded world. I sat with Nikky for 30 minutes and listened as his breaths heralded the arrival of sleep. We will catch owls, but tonight, it was okay that we didnít.