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Creek Running North
May 31, 2003
Seems like everyone's read The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire, but a century from now, I think, people will judge A Fool's Progress and Black Sun Ed Abbey's best works. I finished my first re-reading of Fool's Progress — a dark, slightly fictionalized autobiography — last night. Closed the book, drained the last finger of my bedside shot of single malt, doused the light.
Our bedroom window faces onto our neighbor's driveway. Parked there is an old Chevy pickup, green and white, plastic saguaro impaled on the aerial. Ferris hasn't started it up once in the year we've lived here, but his wife Naomi blanched when I asked a few months back if he'd sell it. I lay in bed listening to the metallic clicks of the truck as it cooled in the night breeze. I dozed.
And then some other clicks started.
Struggling toward consciousness. I remembered walking a much younger Zeke in Oakland eleven years ago, finding a mother opossum with her litter in Glen Echo Creek. Their frantic clicks, struggling to summon the nerve to cross the narrow road, sounded just like that. Sort of. We have raccoons in our neighborhood — which is why I no longer have koi — but I hadn't yet seen possums here.
And I still haven't. Sticking my head out the window, I was surprised to see the driveway devoid of marsupials, the clicking growing louder and louder. A malfunctioning car? A teenager with an annoying noisemaker? The shades of the dead Ohlone who once ate the acorns from our backyard oak?
And then a white blur from an unanticipated direction, and the mystery was solved. Barn owl. Swooping up and down the driveway, it clicked frenetically as if echolocating insects. I went back to bed and watched the owl through the window as it passed each time. It was joined by another. A breeze ruffled the blanket.
Almost fifteen years ago, I learned not to wake Becky for anything short of the house burning down. Once woken, she doesn't go back to sleep. We were in the Greenwater Valley east of Badwater, and at midnight the stars seemed close enough to singe the peak of the tent, and I decided she needed to see it. She warned me, sleepily, and I persisted. Mistake.
But she loves the neighborhood owls: she spent many hours last summer watching them fly in and out of the palm where they nested. I threw caution to the breeze and nudged her. "Owls," I said. "Clicking." "Mm-hmm," she said, and went back to sleep. I turned the reading light on, grabbed a biography of Lincoln, poured another shot of Lagavulin, and read until Abbey's bottomless, pancreatic sorrow echoed a bit less in my heart.