My Guest Visitor on New Year’s Eve
By John Bradley, Army
Writing Type: Prose
December 31, 2008, was a bright, sunny day. There was a slight wind with the usual gusts, outside my 15th floor apartment. It’s directly across 28th Avenue, which is the western border of Centennial Park, an expanse of approximately three to four square miles. I consider my view from the balcony to be dynamically spectacular. The eastern edge of the park abuts Nashville’s business district, which continues east, blending seamlessly with the downtown business district and ending at the Cumberland River. On the other side is East Nashville, where the Titans football stadium sits by the river’s edge. Beyond is a backdrop of green hills. The Parthenon is the centerpiece of the park. A few strides north, ducks and geese breed and live on and around Algonquin Lake. A running track, which I use, circles inside the park. Pavilions available for performing arts, picnicking, and community dances are found in the park as well. A variety of trees provide resting perches for the many noisy crows and blackbirds, and they shelter the multitude of squirrels. Listening to the sounds and watching the activity of people is a pleasant diversion for me. With the static lights changing from red to yellow to green, and the car lights moving, it often seems that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day. I know that nature is never over-extended in exceeding our expectations.
The first time that I left my apartment that day was around 10:00 a.m. I had to purchase the necessities for my modest New Year’s celebration… healthy snacks and champagne. One of my planned activities for the day was to watch Vanderbilt University play in their first Bowl game in 26 years, against Boston College. But I learned from the newspaper, that the game was to be on cable, and I didn’t have cable. Mildly disappointed, I decided to go to the library. On the way out the door, I stopped abruptly. Perched on the aluminum railing that borders my balcony was a guest, who had come to visit on New Year’s Eve. I learned from my mother that any visitor who comes to your home must be treated as a guest. My guest visitor was a hawk, (not of the “person who advocates a belligerent national attitude” species).
This hawk was a bird of prey, smaller than an eagle, with a hooked beak and powerful claws. Except for a slight turn of the head, my guest visitor did not respond to the noise I made in opening the door. Instead, he calmly continued to view the park below.
The events in our lives may be connected, even when seemingly unconnected. I believe such a seemingly unconnected event occurred December 29th, when, after cleaning the interior of my apartment, I felt compelled, (in spite of the 30 degree temperature) to spray with detergent and wipe clean the outside aluminum railing that borders my balcony. Was this action a precursor for a coming event? Fascinated, I stood holding my door ajar with my body, anxious that any awkward movement would cause my guest visitor to take flight. That’s what pigeons do! But my guest did not react to my movements; he remained facing into the bright sunshine and the wind gusts that routinely swirl around. Born, bred and raised in the city, I am a bona fide urbanite, so an opportunity to witness such a magnificent bird up close had never presented itself… until then! I had to get a picture! I closed my door as quietly as I could; and once inside my apartment, I anxiously hoped that my guest would not leave. I got my camera, an auto-focus Polaroid. In this era of digital photography, a Polaroid camera is very rare, especially one that works and takes pictures! My having such a camera is another link in this connecting chain of events.
About a month previous, I was searching through my closet for common household items to replace the used-up toilet tissue and bathing soap in my bathroom, when by chance(?) I uncovered the Polaroid camera that had been given to me by the relatives of a neighbor who died about three years ago. I remembered taking some pictures with the remaining film in the camera; but after that, I did not replace any film. Instead, I had put the camera in the closet and forgotten about it. During that interim, I had bought and used digital throw-away cameras. I had learned that they cost less than Polaroid film, when I took the Polaroid to Walgreen’s to be checked out by a clerk and to find the correct film. Naturally, I bought the most expensive film, with high expectations that I would really enjoy my Polaroid camera! Why? Instead of returning my Polaroid to the closet shelf, I put it on a shelf in plain view.
While inside my apartment, I was able to see my guest visitor through openings between the slats of the not-too-tightly closed blinds inside the front window. The unchanging, focused attention of the bird reminded me, as a practitioner of Falun Dafa, Hatha Yoga, and Pilates, how difficult it is to master that skill. In one practice routine, you are to let your breath come naturally without trying to influence it.
You are to count your breathing inhalations and exhalations from one to five, no more. After maybe one or two successful reps, you will know that your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “12,” even “20.” My guest visitor was a master. My guest’s brown-and-black feathers intermingled in his unrumpled wings. They formed a cap-like covering, with a hood that covered both sides of his body. Very fine white feathers fluffed out from just below his head and covered the front of his body, as they swayed gently in the breeze. The face was dominated by a hooked beak and, of course, those round, unblinking eyes.
This nattily attired guest was very well-groomed. Now more confident that my guest was unconcerned about my actions, I went back to the porch with my Polaroid-I moved within four feet and then two feet, and made pictures. As I took them, I noticed that my guest could revolve his head and follow me with his unblinking eyes while his body remained un-turned and perched on the railing. I guessed that he was secured by his talons. After taking the pictures, I remained outside, admiring my guest, but without any inclination to regard him as a pet. I was a privileged observer, not an intruder in a drama that occurs in nature.
It was Dec. 31, and the leaves had fallen and left the tree limbs bare, thus depriving my visitor of cover-He had simply improvised and was using my balcony railing for his sight-seeing. Sight-seeing is a common reason for any guest to come visiting! I went inside to await the self-developing process of my Polaroid to complete its cycle. When I was satisfied, I restarted my trip to the library, leaving my camera inside. By then, I was accustomed to my guest visitor following my movements, by revolving his head with unblinking eyes and no body movements. I walked behind my guest, looking down the passageway toward the elevator.
In a nano-second, faster than my eyes could follow, in one motion, the wings were spread holding and balancing the bird aloft, yet still attached to the railing by powerful talons that I could now see: facing me, the head with those unblinking eyes was now laser-locked on me! These actions were so fast that it was only after they had happened and my brain computed what had happened that I understood.
Apparently, while I was walking behind my guest, with his head revolving and following me, I must have reached a point, a blind spot, that my guest could not see. That must have sent these other instincts into play. While I felt no danger, mostly surprise, had I been one of my squirrelly neighbors in the park… WOW! But even at my size I believe that those powerful talons could do damage! After I had crossed the “blind spot” and my guest was satisfied that things were again as they previously had been, my guest returned to observing the park. I continued walking to the elevator, all the while replaying in my mind the impressive display I had just participated in! What a great way to begin the New Year! When I reached the street, I looked up to locate my guest. Only because I knew his location was I able to distinguish his presence. I normally walk through the park, when I go to the library. As I walked, I immediately noticed something was different. I surveyed the expanse of the park and there was not a squirrel in view! Usually, they are playing and gathering in full view, unaffected by my presence! No doubt, somehow they were aware of my guest visitor on New Year’s Eve.
Later, when I returned from the library, just before dark, things seemed to have returned to normal; a few squirrels were still out scampering in their usual fashion. I reasoned that my guest visitor had left! The next thing that happened was amazing, to say the least! As I was about to cross 28th Avenue, leaving the area, high-pitched sounds that I made out to be “boo’s” resounded through the park. They were coming from the hollows in the trees where the squirrels live. I rationalized that it was just my imagination, but you can never anticipate what’s coming next…in nature.