Took the Cathay Pacific red-eye from Vancouver to New York last night. It’s always strange, and also not strange, to make this trip.
Strange because at home in Manhattan, I sit in Taralucci e Vino, a small crowded cafe in the East Village, drinking latté and trying to decide which movie to go to and where to eat, and less than 24 hours ago, I was at home on an island in the middle of Desolation Sound, walking through a mist-shrouded rain forest, in the company of eagles and cougars and wolves. On the island, there are not so many humans and at this time of year no restaurants at all.
Not strange, because New York is a part of me, and I’m part of it, and the minute I set foot on the sidewalk, I know where I am. I am intimately familiar with the sidewalk, the cracks and stains, the odd, irregular grey dots that look like age spots on old skin, but are probably from chewing gum pressed deep into the cement by other soles. I know how to jaywalk here, how to gauge the lights, cross in front of cabs, cut through crowds. I know which stores are new, and which have folded. I am dismayed at the introduction of Muni parking kiosks on every block. It’s the East Village, and now you have to pay for parking?
And yet, even while I’m happy and engaged here, I’m missing the dripping cedar boughs and the lapping tides and the cries of the bard owls at twilight. In New York, you pay three dollars for an oyster on a half shell. At home on the island, oysters are what you collect and eat when you run out of cash to pay for groceries.
I have friends here who are my family, my history, who are as much a part of me as blood and bone, and I have new friends there, whom I am growing into, my foreseeable future.
Strange and not strange. How much longer will I be able to straddle these worlds? I love it here, and I love it there. I know that flying back and forth is not ecologically sustainable, and I feel guilty about the carbon costs of our vacation, but soon I’m afraid this will not be a problem, because soon it will not be economically feasible for us to make a trip like this. Am I sad? Of course I am.
Tonight, as we walked down Broadway to the Angelica theater, we were struck by how empty the sidewalks were. It was five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, with only 10 more shopping days ‘til Christmas. The stores were advertising deep post-Christmas level discounts, and there should have been throngs of shoppers, yet so few were out and buying. Is this what the Depression will look like?
Yesterday morning on the island, my cat, the little murderer, killed a pygmy owl and laid it at our bedroom door by the suitcases. It was his gift, a last ditch attempt to convince us not to go. I’ve never seen a pygmy owl before. Oliver brought it in to the bedroom to show me. Its eyes were closed and its neck was limp and broken, but otherwise it was intact. A tiny owl, only six inches long. Not officially endangered, but probably ought to be. Oliver put it in a Ziplock bag and stored it in the freezer.
We love our cats. They kill rats, vermin, they are symbionts and they help us. But they also kill song birds and pygmy owls and endangered shrews. Are domestic cats wrong? Should we not have them? The wolves are out in numbers this year, in packs, roaming the island, making humans nervous. Some of the old timers are calling for a wolf cull, like the one in the 70’s. I heard about it from an islander who was a child at the time. There was a bounty. She saw a pick-up truck go by, and the bed was filled with the dead bodies of wolves, stacked like cords of firewood.
Sometimes I feel, deep in my bones, that it is not natural to have so many choices, so many identities, and places to be, and lives to lead, and foods to eat, and things to want. And yet, having so much, having had so much, I am exceedingly reluctant to settle for less. Of course, when the time comes, I will settle. I’ll have no choice. Am I sad? Of course I am.
Pygmy Owl from The Why? Files