Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Hole in the Forest

I finally got to my usual walk up to the top of Mt. Davidson this week, and was surprised to come upon this. One large tree had fallen in the storm ten days ago, and had taken out several more. They completely blocked the path, so I had to scramble up and over them to get to the mountain top. As I stopped, I noticed that the light was different, and the sound. Usually this stretch is dark and closed in, city noises are muffled and there is only birdsong and the creaking of tree limbs and rustling of leaves. Sometimes I'm even reluctant to walk this stretch during the middle of the day when there are no dog walkers or fellow strollers around. Someone could easily be hiding behind the vines. I always wonder if I'm being overly cautious or using common sense. But now there's a hole in the forest. This patch is wide open to the sky and I can hear the bus straining up the hill. It has lost its closed-in, hidden feeling.

Once when I was walking on this same stretch of path in the forest I came upon a man with a scope. He had it pointed up into a tree about 50 yards away.
"There was a northern pygmy owl up there, but he may not be there right now," he said excitedly. "I've been watching him the last few days."
I peered through the scope but couldn't see any owl. This man told me there were more bird species on Mt. Davidson than any other city park. He described how during and after storms, many birds settle on the trees up here to wait out the bad weather, especially during migrations. That week I made several trips up the mountain just to look for the norther pygmy owl with my binoculars, but I never saw it or the man again. I came to wonder if he had really seen it, but he seemed authentic enough with his scope and the bird species names he dropped.
Usually when I walk up here I'm moving, making my circuit in the hour I've allotted myself for my walk. I see birds, like I did today: a hummingbird, bushtits, black-eyed juncos, even a kestrel. But I would see even more if I sat silently for ten minutes. Then the birds would get used to me and come out. But the ten minutes stretches out my hour. Do I have ten minutes to sit and watch the world around me?
I'd like to say the downed trees made me stop for ten minutes. But I had my son to pick up. They did make me stop for about three minutes. I looked around and up at a place I usually hurry through on my way somewhere else. I noted how that place had changed. Maybe next time I'll stop a little longer.

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