BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST • MARCH/APRIL ’ 17 • birdwatchersdigest.com 113
Debbie sailed into the back of the room. As our eyes met, her face burst into
a smile. I was thrilled but shaken. Thoughtful but casual relationships had
been my pattern. Yet now I sensed I had met a woman capable of knocking
my single life off of its foundations. Part of me wanted to run. Yet I did the
opposite. When I learned that Debbie and two of her birding friends were
organizing a trip to Vermont to see a hawk owl, a rare visitor from Canada,
I not only invited myself along for the ride, I offered to drive. That’s how, at
four o-clock deep in the dark of night, an old friend and I found ourselves
pulling into Debbie’s driveway. I didn’t believe in omens, not real ones. If I
had, the great horned owl hooting as I stepped out of the car would have
told me that I was about to be pounced on and swallowed by a future I never
could have envisioned.
Later, near Chester, we drove up and down the road along which the hawk
owl had been spotted. Other carloads of birders were doing the same. None
had found the quarry. It was freezing outside. The heater roared. Queasy
from motion sickness, I would have given up had circumstances been different. But here was a chance to do what most of us long to do in the presence
of a romantic interest: to show off, in this case, to find the bird no one else
could locate. My eyes were sharp, and luck was with me. Atop a pine a quarter mile away, I spied a shape. It was round like a Christmas ornament, but it
seemed to be a Christmas ornament with a tail.
“Hang on!” I cried, pulling over and leaping out of the car. In short order
the entire party was standing beside me. The ace birder in our group, who in
time became a good friend, mounted his spotting scope. In the deadpan tone
and terse language birders use in announcing stupendous finds, the ace may
have sealed my fate. “Hawk owl,” he said.
An hour later, when we were scanning a map seeking the best way home,
Debbie’s hand and mine brushed. I nearly fainted. I’d been struck by something electric. Looking back on that charged moment, one I owe to a hawk
owl, I realize that it sparked the chain of events that led to Debbie’s and my
elopement—back in Chester, on Leap Day—a year later.
Four years later we’d spend a fantastic year chasing kookaburras and
kiwis together, and after that, we’d buy a house in the Adirondacks and produce two children. Our keen young bird lovers, now eleven and thirteen, owe
their existence to a hawk owl, and I guess I owe my life to it, too.
IN SEARCH OF YOUR