I walk out the gate in the late dusk. I am bundled up, wrapped in warm scarves, hands in the pockets of my down vest. There is a crooked bush three blocks away, its trunk wrapped in colored lights. I like these small quirky efforts best. I feel the cold on my nose, my cheeks, my calves. I walk fast. Someone at the Biltmore has hung a wreath and a row of colored balls over the side of their balcony, all lit up. I stand in the street with my head back, drinking in their colors, their light. This is one of my favorite traditions, walking in the dark, coming upon each unexpected lit-up treasure. I hear a loud bird call from the house with the shaggy palm trees. I have heard the cry before, I think, but tonight I remember we have an owl here whose call sounds like a scream. If this is an owl, how many times have I walked past one in the dark without knowing? I have never seen an owl, not free in the world.
I keep walking north. The house on the next corner has flood lights flush in the ground, lighting up their bougainvillea hedge, their grove of fan palms. I walk past, and a big bird glides into the path of their light. He is very near. I see his belly, soft feathers a mottled white, his curved wings illuminated against the palm trees, and then he is gone. I stand unmoving, stunned. But for the exquisite timing, I would never have known he was here. It is a brilliant gift, incandescent like the Christmas lights. I walk home, filled with awe and gratitude. I hear his cry once more in the distance. My own little cluster of colored lights greets me at my front hedge. The quiet peace of the owl’s silent gliding presence follows me back inside the gate.