Saturday, July 31, 2010.
My sixty-third birthday. God damn.
Also the day we must clear out. The house is leased to someone else starting tomorrow. I have packed and mailed five boxes home, and still my ol’ M3 is heavily laden. Elizabeth has decided to drive with me to San Francisco, along with Augusta the cat.
Augusta is a Montana native, having been abandoned in the snow—How can anybody do such a thing?—in November 1995, when we were living on the West Boulder Ranch and not yet married. She grew up among coyotes and bears, stalwart, valiant, a huntress. Mice, voles, and, yes, the occasional songbird she’d bite in half and wolf down. We left the West Boulder in June of 1997 to return to city life, but we have come back to Montana every summer, always with Augusta. At fifteen, with hip dysplasia, and after so much city life, she no longer hunts, and we must fear for her even near the house, for a coyote, an eagle, an owl could make a quick snatch of her that she’d now be too slow to evade.
Owls. There are always a pair of great horned owls across the creek and downstream a bit, though we’ve never found their nest. We had not seen their young either, till a couple of days ago, when I went down to the Sweet Grass to photograph its astonishing transformation, new cottonwoods forming bulwarks that may be foundations of new islands, the logjams growing thicker with ever more débris and themselves therefore also possibly creating new land, alders sinking roots into the rocks and sand deep enough perhaps to withstand even a runoff as brutal as this year’s. The birds had nested, the babies had fledged, many had gone, and the woods were largely silent till I heard a harsh loud shriek, repeated, repeated, nearby. I climbed the bank into the grass, now rank and knotted and in places taller than me. The giant coneflowers blazed yellow in the blackening green. Many of the trees were losing their charcoaled bark, turning from black to stark white. On one scraggly, twisted little dead sapling about six feet high perched a bird much too big for it, unquestionably an owl, unquestionably a great horned because no other is so big, but with puffs of down and white feathers sticking out here and there as from a rotting old pillow, and as I took a step toward it, and another and another, the doggone bird didn’t move, just kept shrieking at me. Finally I got it: This was a baby, it didn’t want to fly, or maybe even couldn’t, Where are my mom and my dad, what am I supposed to do? They never did show, but Owl Junior did in fact know how to fly, albeit not very well, and did manage to flap his way to a proper treetop. I should never have forced him to do so. Or, okay, her.
A birthday dinner with great friends at a genuinely local steakhouse in Livingston, not one of the woefully self-conscious “fine dining” establishments that cater to tourists and newcomers with menus of ghastly, recklessly complex concoctions invariably mispronounced so egregiously by your server (insert name here) that the pain is though not new nonetheless acute; here at the Buffalo Jump you get a well grilled steak of cow or bison, a baked potato in foil or French fries, and very surprisingly excellent green beans. Martinis. We bring wine, they don’t charge corkage. A grocery store cake. A damn fine time.