A white sickle of moon glows through the fog as I tug my sleeves over my hands and pull the front door shut. Motion-activated lights interrogate the trespass of my morning run. The strict scent of juniper leaps from a tangled heap of branches stacked by the curb.
Fir trees laden with sticky cones line my first hill. The last remnants of the forest that once covered these slopes. Conifers made way for orchards and farms, then for homes and schools.
Fifteen minutes in, almost even with one of my favorite houses, a mid-century modern with spare, black porch railings, fir boughs arch over the road. A swath of yellow and brown leaves softens the shoulder of the road.
Then, without a sound, something slams into the back of my head. It feels like a punch from a spiked fist. I spin around and look down at the pavement for a broken limb or branch. Nothing, not even a pine cone. I hold the back of my head, scared and embarrassed. I look back towards home. No one is behind me throwing rocks.
In the stillness of the fog I’m vulnerable, exposed. Surely, I don’t deserve this. I haven’t done anything wrong. My watch buzzes and I jump. Flexing my stiff fingers, I turn and start running again, stopping once to look back. Nothing. I take a few more steps.
Bang. Another blow to the back of the head. This time I turn and look up. White wings, two feet across, edged with gray and black and a round head rise silently above me. After her second strike the owl disappears into a fir.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, even as the virus hunts us, we tell our stories. Twelve raccoons in the back yard. Seven coyotes up by the gas station. A buck and two doe in the front yard. If a rabbit sits up on its haunches in the wet grass, swivels its ears and looks at me, I’m blessed. I stand my ground when a coyote turns her pointed nose and triangle ears towards me, thrilled to share the empty street with her. The seal that rises sleek and silent from the rumpled water of the bay to watch me with its liquid eyes sees a fellow traveler. When a wild animal gazes directly at us we feel a kinship. If I run in the dark I must admit allegiance to the night raptor.
While I may elude our current dread, someday, minding my own business, not looking for trouble, I’ll cross into the territory of shade and sorrow. Death, with her stinging talons, will come for me. I can only hope that, like the owl, she’ll be swift.
Victoria Lewis grew up on the Oregon coast, taught school in Portland and worked as a computer programmer. She has been published in The Oregonian and Teaching Tolerance.
See more of her work in 9.2