I consider myself to be a somewhat mystical person. Some days I am opti-mystic and other times I revert to pessi-mystic.
Last Friday I drove to Conrad to visit friends. It was a Friday much like any other Friday. I had not even crossed the county line when a gull flew at me, skirted my windshield and flew on. I thought it looked me in the eye as it flew across the hood.
I have long had a special relationship to many birds, but especially crows. Once when I had been having a rough day and was driving along in a dark mood, thinking grumbling thoughts, a clownish looking crow flew in front of my van and paused directly in front of my windshield. The crow did not try to get out of my way, but as I drove down the road, stayed ahead of me for several moments. Then it flipped and flew upside down for nearly thirty seconds, flipped back up, ruffled its wings, winked at me, and flew out of sight. I got the message. This crow told me to lighten up, to play. I learned my lesson.
Another time, at Pacific Beach, I was walking along the edge of the winter surf, when a flock of sandpipers performed for me. In perfect unison, they turned and dipped, each little bird a part of the larger whole. I felt the same way I feel when sitting in Benaroya Hall, watching and listening to the Seattle Symphony. The sandpipers made a living picture of the symphonic sounds. Their lesson — look for the music in all things.
So last Friday I paid attention to my gull friend. Its message wasn’t clear to me, but it seemed to be sending a warning. Then as I passed the outskirts of Chester, a magpie flew at me with a frown, turned at the last second, and also dashed across my windshield. I always drive with an eye to wildlife alongside the road, but now I felt I needed to be extra alert, not only to animals but to all things on the road.
After my visit with my Conrad friends, Jesse and Sharon, I was not 15 miles out of town headed back to Shelby, when a hawk flew up and across my windshield and grimaced, same left to right pattern as the gull and the magpie. I thanked the hawk for reminding me to be cautious but, I admit, I felt apprehensive. This was not a “feel-good” message. I drove on, scanning the roadsides as well as the road to the front of me and behind. My trip was uneventful all the way to Havre, where I stopped at the IGA to buy Halloween candy for the little neighborhood spooks and my own big spook sweet tooth.
Nightfall slowly descended as I pulled out of Havre, and by the time I passed Zurich, it was nearly dark. I was about six miles from home, when, as a pick-up truck coming from the opposite direction passed me, something hit the left side of my van with a hard thunk. I pulled into the first farm lane and got out to check my front end. It was banged up with missing parts, but I could still drive. I noticed that the pick-up driver had also stopped. Before I could go back to see if he had been hit, he took off.
So I’ll never know what hit me. It’s a mystery. Maybe an animal had unwisely chosen that moment to stroll down the center line of the highway. Perhaps a raccoon. Or a pheasant. Or a grouse. If I were being pessi-mystic, I might think the flying object was something the other driver threw from his vehicle — a cigarette butt? A beer bottle? A loaded diaper? A dead refrigerator. I’ll never know.
I am opti-mystically grateful for my feathered friends, the gull, the magpie and the hawk, who warned me to be alert, to hold the wheel steady when I saw the brief flicker of motion and felt the thunk of impact. Beyond that, it is my own mystical mystery. Thankfully, I was not hurt. My vehicle is drivable. The damage is fixable. To my feathered friends, my thanks.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)