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Music of the Mourning Doves

Music of the Mourning Doves

Dawn brushes the city like lavender waves lapping on the sandy shore. Soft light creeps over the tops of houses to illuminate the trees and flowers of a backyard. The air comes alive with muted sounds of the waking city: fogs horns, rumbling cars, a plane overhead, barking dogs and twittering songbirds all intertwine to form the philharmonic of the morning. Like the ensemble’s appointed soloist, one voice rises above the rest; the melancholy oowoo-woo-woo-woo of a mourning dove. Although a common enough bird in the city, and often overlooked by many, there is one mourning dove I shall never forget.

There was no doubt about it, the wing was hopelessly broken and twisted. Sticking uselessly out to the side at an unnatural angle, it was a wonder the bird could move at all. I was-how old was I? Six, seven? Truthfully I can’t recall- on the day my mother found a wounded mourning dove hopping around our backyard, hiding behind the stump of a long-since felled pine tree.. Perhaps a neighborhood cat (maybe even my own) had caught its wing in a pouncing leap, perhaps the bird had had a run in with any one of the numerous dangers to be found in a city, we did not know. In any case, even I could see this bird would not be flying anytime soon, if ever. I watched as my mother quietly pursued the dove around, eventually catching her in a tea towel and carrying her inside, so my feline friend could not finish what he may have started.

Once inside, I watched as my mother gently lowered the dove into a large fabric box, with a mirror on the inside lid and dusty patterns parading around the exterior. Into this box was placed a dish of bird seed and saucer of water, as well as tea towel to keep her warm. I watched, fixated on the wild animal now in my living room, as adults spoke in hushed tones about what was to be done. “Who should we call? The vet? Animal Care and Control? The Park Service?” What does one do with a bird of no special significance, no ordained value except as a living, breathing creature?

At some point, I wound up with the dove cradled in my hands. I could barely believe the perfection of the avian artwork in front of me, the delicate life in my hands. Each feather was spun of gossamer thread, as beautiful and fragile as spiders’ silk or a falling snowflake. She was dusty brown like a worn coat loved beyond its lifespan, speckled with black spots at the base of her wings. Her tail fanned out into fronds of shivering feathers, and her eyes were the color of a murky pond, its surface rippling in the wind. Through the cloth wrapped around her I could feel her fleet, shaky breaths and her fluttering heartbeat, reverberating through my skin and harmonizing with my own. In that moment she was pure magic, the guardian of a world barely hidden out of sight, obscured by an elusive veil I could almost feel, almost see. In my mind she ceased to be a bird at all, and instead became an ethereal spirit, trapped in this world and desperately fighting to get home.

As the sun moved across the sky and the shadows lengthened, the dove’s condition worsened. Soon she would not eat, and then not drink, and finally she closed her eyes and lay shivering in the box. My mother knew, and perhaps I knew as well, that there was nothing left we could do. So we carried her the short way to Golden Gate Park, where, off the beaten trails in a hollow of long grass and sheltering shrubs, still dappled by the evening sun, we lovingly laid her down. We left her in the checkered tea towel to keep her warm, and with a final glance we walked away. My mother was softly telling me the bird was warm and safe, and that was all we could do. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t even particularly sad. After all, she was home in her world of whispering trees and laughing winds, of gentle sunlight and endless stars. A world she had let me see, only for a moment.

Suns rise and suns set, moons wax and wane, flowers grow and bloom and die and bloom again. In the way of this world years pass and children grow older. I now sit in my kitchen, typing these words as I sip tea and watch the sunlight awaken this new day. Until now I had all but forgotten about the broken bird I found years ago, the mourning dove that couldn’t fly. I never forgot however, the wild, endless dream she showed me, lying just out of sight, just beyond the tips of my fingers. In the moments before I wake, at the edges of my hearing, it calls to me reminding me it is still there. One day I shall find it, I think.

In the yard below, on the ancient branches of a Cypress tree, perches a mourning dove. She looks around her, then lifts her head and sings.Oowoo-woo-woo-woo. Oowoo-woo-woo-woo.




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