Man living temporarily apart from family discovers the joy of solitude.
“Quiet” is a nice word. It is – well, quiet. It is not passive though, but filled with possibility and discovery.
There was a time, over 30 years ago, during which I experienced a lot of quiet. I started my new job near Marysville in September, the beginning of Scott’s senior year in high school. We wanted to let him finish with the class he had grown up with, rather than enter a new unfamiliar school for his last year. So we decided that Joan and the three kids would stay in Springfield, Virginia, until June, then join me in Marysville after Scott’s graduation.
I rented a small apartment just south of town. It was a big change for me; no lawns to mow, no handyman jobs to perform, none of the kids’ homework papers to check. Suddenly all the busyness and activities associated with family life were 500 miles away, out of my hands. I read a lot, listened to classical music on the radio, and led a pretty solitary life.
It began one lazy Saturday afternoon. With nothing much to do, I was gazing out the window across the fields adjacent to the apartment complex. Something caught my eye: a sudden motion at the edge of the field. I thought I saw some sort of animal, partially concealed in the high grass. A large bird, perhaps? I sat still and kept my eyes glued to that spot. Then it moved rapidly out of the high grass and onto the mowed lawn. It stayed but an instant, then was gone in a flash – so quickly I wasn’t really sure of what I had seen, but I was left with an image in my mind of a very unusual creature, the likes of which I had never seen.
I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. Am I hallucinating? Is my monk-like existence beginning to play tricks with my mind? I donned my jacket and went for a brisk walk, and tried to forget this strange experience. But I couldn’t. The image remained.
I slept well that night, but for the next several days, found myself peering cautiously out my windows, looking for something to explain or confirm what I thought I had seen. Nothing. After a couple of weeks, the image, and my obsession with it, began fading.
Just when I thought this experience was behind me, I saw it again! It had been another quiet weekend, and on Sunday evening I was idly watching a flock of grackles feeding on the lawn. Suddenly it ran quickly into my line of sight; then stopped and stood still, long enough for me to get a good look.
It stood maybe 15 inches high, on two slender legs. Its body was a light earth-tone beige in color, was smooth and graceful, and tapered upward into a long, swanlike neck. Although bird-like in its general shape, I saw no evidence of wings. The top of the neck transitioned into what appeared to be three sinuous elements – two in front, on either side; and one in back. The reason for this sturdy neck became apparent as I studied the head. It was large, magnificent, reminiscent of that of some prehistoric creature, with a prominent brow, large beady forward-facing eyes, and a long snout, equal in length to the head’s diameter. The head tapered back into a streamlined crest which imparted a most graceful appearance to the overall head-neck structure.
Without warning, and with a quickness and speed that seemed to defy physical laws of motion, it darted across the lawn, then disappeared into some high brush. In motion, it was beautiful. The head, with the long snout and rear crest, the slight S-shaped curve of the neck, and the artistically sculpted body, melded into a nearly horizontal form of dynamic grace and power. Its only means of locomotion must have been those slender legs, though they moved so fast my eyes could not follow them.
I was overwhelmed! Either I had witnessed something heretofore unobserved by humankind, or else I was completely mad! I stared for a long time at the spot where this amazing animal had disappeared, trying to quell my emotions and apply some rational thought to the situation. With a start, I suddenly realized that the grackles were still there, obviously unconcerned over this creature’s presence.
Finally I stumbled into the kitchen, this time for a glass of something stronger than water. Questions raced through my mind. I set aside suspicions of my sanity, and tried to focus instead on rationality. Is the afternoon lighting fooling me? Is this some large bird or mammal indigenous to Ohio with which I am unfamiliar? Did it leave behind any evidence of its presence? I went outside and carefully surveyed the area for any sign – footprints, scat, bent grass. Nothing. Am I the only person ever to have seen one of these? How is that possible? Appearing in a populated area such as this, it must have been sighted and documented. Then again, maybe it’s some exotic animal that escaped from the Columbus Zoo, or from someone’s home. A world traveler could have brought it back from some remote and distant place.
The library. I’ll check in the natural history section of the library. There are lots of books on the world’s birds, mammals, creatures of all kinds. Surely I’ll find it referenced somewhere. Meanwhile, I won’t mention this to anyone. This is a small town. People will talk.
Over the next several weeks, I spent as much spare time as I could searching through all the references, new and old, that I could find. In the Marysville Public Library. Then in Columbus’ main library, downtown. I found nothing even remotely resembling what I had seen. Meanwhile, in my apartment, I spent hours motionless by my window, hoping for or dreading I knew not which, another sighting. About a month and a half went by, uneventfully. As before, I began to relax, and tried to treat this mystery as a strange and unusual dream. It was time to get on with my life. I gradually reverted to my quiet, calm, somewhat isolated existence, with my books and music. Once again I spent time viewing through my window my little world of lawn, fields, trees, birds, changing weather patterns.
But my tranquility was not to last. I must confess, an unexpected exhilaration and joy consumed me when, again, it appeared! It was morning. The lighting was different than before. It was in a different location, in plain view. There was no mistaking my observation. I viewed it for a long time, as it moved over the lawn, apparently feeding on the grass. I now could see that the body was covered with fine, short-haired fur – similar in color (and apparently in texture) to that of the white-tailed deer. A strange sense of wonderment came over me. I no longer was anxious or disbelieving. Instead, I felt I had made a fascinating discovery, and was filled with great excitement.
Suddenly it lifted its wonderful head and looked around, emitting a soft, sensuous sound: “Mloop. Mloop. Mloop.” And then – would these wonders never cease! – two small ones, obviously juveniles, came cautiously out of the high grass. They joined their companion – a parent, I assumed – and fed from the lawn alongside it.
Freed from any doubt over their existence, or over the fact that I was seeing something no human had ever seen before, I reveled in the experience. My apartment window became my sacred place of discovery. I spent many hours there, entranced by these strangely beautiful creatures. They appeared often over the next few months, as long as I remained quiet and still, respectful of their presence. It was my privilege and responsibility, as with any great discoverer, to name this new specimen. It was an easy choice; the musical sound they made, which blended so well with the other quiet sounds of nature, was the perfect name: Mloop. I felt no compelling reason to tell anyone of my discovery; it was mine, and mine alone, to savor.
As with all of life’s experiences, this one had to come to an end. In June, my family and I moved into our new country home west of Marysville. My quiet secluded life was replaced by high activity. I felt the joy of being once again with my family, watching them grow, sharing their triumphs and traumas. I oversaw construction of a new addition to our home, and, with Scott’s help, built a large deck overlooking the lawn. On my 15 acres I planted trees, and created a vegetable garden and vineyard. Life once again was busy, active, and full. Thirty years quickly passed, and I haven’t seen my Mloops in all that time.
Now, the children are gone, married, raising families of their own, following their own dreams, struggling with their own realities. And I am retired. The swirl of activity that once was my life has slowed. Occasionally, I feel that same sense of quiet, of increased awareness, I experienced long ago in my small apartment.
Over the years, I’ve learned that when one becomes truly quiet and still, time slows, occasionally even stops. The eye and mind become more observant, and a different and unique perspective is gained. Those things of beauty and wonder that we cannot see as we hurry through our busy, noisy world suddenly come into clear view.
If you’ll excuse me now, I think I’ll sit by my window for a spell, and look across my lawn, into the fields beyond.