October 22, 2020
The calendar reads September 25.  RBG lies in state.  Somber men, and women dressed in black with tears tracing mascara lines across powdered cheekbones linger around her dark coffin, all seeking some closure for the loss of this diminutive intellectual giant, gone now, never to be forgotten, who left us with this coda, first popularized by another woman of history—“women’s rights are human rights.”

RBG’s long goodbye and its inevitable denouement is just one final twitch of history in this dismal year of our lord which has passed at snail’s pace yet as a whirlwind, darting here, dashing there, leaving chaos and scars in the wake of its twenty-four hour crisis cycle.  It will soon be over.  Six weeks, give or take, until early November, and the planet may begin to brighten in anticipation of a recovery during the following year.

The calendar reads September 25.  Drought lies heavily upon the sere brown hillsides of southern Arizona.  I am with my cameras and a friend looking for birds.  It is post-breeding season now, and Arizona’s “second summer,” regionally referred to as the monsoon, has failed to materialize.  Typically at this season we find birds where we find water.  We find no water except in the few fishing lakes.  We see few birds.

Migration is winding down, southbound birds no longer in abundance.  A late Wilson’s Warbler, an adult male with crisp black cap shoots up from a weed patch into a trailside cottonwood.  My friend laughs with delight.  This delight he finds in all things natural is the main reason he is along on this trip, and on many of my outings.  He is not a birder per se, but he enjoys the birds and is filled with almost child-like wonderment at the sights and sounds, the feel, of desert and woods, the perfect companion for divisive times marked by anger and cynicism, two qualities foreign to his nature.

Even on long drives we never discuss politics, but we will talk about the planet and we have plenty of laughs about the inanities of human nature.  In a very real sense this friend is a hero to me because of his even temperament and his ability, gleaned from many adventures together, to understand me so well he anticipates my moods.  He brings light to my darkness and lifts me up when I am trending downwards.

We hear the whisk of wind in wings moments before we see the shadow’s shape.  A raven passes overhead, low and from behind, catches a thermal rising from the canyon below, and ascends its spiral staircase.  Far ahead, almost to the horizon where canyon wall touches sky, there is a sentinel snag bearing barren, leafless branches.  A form detaches itself, the form becomes a raptor, the raptor, on long, narrow, pointed wings, eschews any thermals and rises straight up, into the blue.

I point and glance at my friend.  He smiles broadly.  The distance is too great to be sure, but I suspect the raptor is a White-tailed Kite as we have seen that species here in the past.  We watch the scene unfold, assuming the kite’s intention is to harass the raven, now almost to the top of the canyon.  The raven, perhaps assuming the same thing, veers off over the tablelands to the south, but the kite continues gaining altitude, stalls briefly, then suddenly stoops dramatically, down, out of sight in a heartbeat, on something it has seen in the canyon.

It is over.  We cannot see into the canyon depths and will probably never know the outcome.  I shrug.  My companion whoops, and reminds me we have just witnessed a spectacular natural event which, after all, was the point of our trip, any trip.  I smile, knowing he is right, knowing he has just confirmed why I love having him along.  Then we see the raptor again, coming up fast, coming over the canyon wall, coming toward us.  There is nothing in its talons or its beak.  And it is not a kite!

Much closer now, we see the pointed wings are falcon wings.  Rowing the air.  The black axillars say Prairie Falcon.  Closer still, the thin dark moustachial line like mascara running down its cheeks.  Now we are both whooping as I raise the camera.  I hesitate to traffic in omens, but I do know a screech-owl, a lifer for her, visited my dying mother’s window sill in the days before her death.  Clearing the wall, rising, above us now, still rising, the falcon catches the updraft, and disappears into the ether.  Now it is over.

November 3.  I embrace its coming with anticipation.  America will rise again from these ashes, from the residue of this dark year, from this deep canyon into which we were plunged these four long years ago.  RBG’s life will not have been in vain.