What came to be known among the owls in the Santa Cruz Mountains as the Catastrophe of 1949 began when a certain John Doefus, who woke up that morning next to his lumpy yet settled wife Jane, and who still looked, smelled, weighed, shaved, brushed, and behaved no better than ever in doing so, started up his mammoth John Deere tractor nine miles away. Immediately, he began to look forward to quitting time. The engine sounded like a .38 caliber pistol.
The first tree to fall was a simple fir. No fir ever had aspirations of greatness. Those exclusive heights were left to redwoods. The nests on the higher branches of the fir were nestled at an altitude that reached slightly more than two thousand feet into the sky, and overlooked Monterey Bay twelve miles in the distance. One cute Northern Pygmy owl who lost a lovely nest was distantly related to the lovely Thee Mrs., the wife of the tawny owl.
Too soon, two followed one.
Then the race was on. More nefarious John Deere clones that were operated masterfully by one interrelated and thick skinned Joe Doe, or John Cue, or Dip Doody, followed another like lemmings and slugs. They chewed away the top of an entire mountain, chopped it into pieces, gouged it, axed it, hammered it, drilled it, dumped it, leveled it, pawed it, paved it. Many hundred feet of its reach into the multiverse disappeared. None were coming back. Many thousand trees fell. Many millions of reptiles, rodents, fish, bugs perished. None were coming back. Many humans who went on to become passionate about lawn mowers, pomegranates, galoshes, triathalons, edamame, health insurance, lunch boxes, skin color, statistics, super heroes, blood pressure, polyvinyl, and needlepoint, stepped on those graves, pissed on them, poisoned them, danced on them like philosophers, robots, terrorists, apes, queens, and geeks. They came back day and night, turned on the lights, started over, followed the same foot prints. Their heat continued to rise. They tried hard to be cool but were unable to pull it off.
The beautiful birds suffered most because they were the highest flyers and could see where it was leading. It seemed as if it took no time at all.
The humans when they were quite satisfied with a job well done left behind a sign that went up next to a gate topped with razor wire that announced in big, glittering letters approximately the color of blood, Coming: Grassy Knolls. It was pounded deep into the reeling dirt which soon turned into mud. The dripping letters on a smaller, second sign, though still big, proclaimed: Above it All.
The tawny owl was briefing me on pertinent details relevant to the Catastrophe of 1949 that he explained I might theoretically need to know on a strictly need to know basis in order to carry out my initial assignment in the war against the sneaky cats and their human enablers who callously murder beautiful birds. To that point, I had no answers. Answers would come later, if then. Answers under conditions of war exist commonly on a need to know basis, I know. From what I could understand, however, we were getting there. Or approaching. Either way I knew this was it. Because it had to be. Or the start of it.
Bring it on, I thought. What this part of the world needs now is a stunning climax. At last. Though not prematurely.
Still, I perceived it best to say, “What?”
The tawny owl had three dead mice in his mouth while he was instructing me, although he did not seem to be chewing, which was not like him, and he was mumbling as a matter of logical consequence.
One word I’m sure he used, though, was, “Follow.” I rarely find that word inspiring when coming out of the maws of assorted experts but this time coming from the beak of the tawny owl it was different. I was confident that a timely and appropriate context would arrive shortly thereafter to provide me with the balance that I would need to remain erect and vital.
Okay, I admit much of the subtext was lost on me as well. All I knew for sure was something big was happening and I didn’t know what.
I do know I repeated myself in saying, “What?”
Then it seemed as if I could hear a distinctive cell phone toning despite the well known and accepted fact that cell phone reception under the mighty redwoods of the Forest of Nisene Marks, a California State Park, where we were located, is unreliable and spotty at best. And the distinctive ring tone I was hearing sounded like an updated version of a stupid old Beatles song which I knew couldn’t be. Like, who gives a shit anymore? Unless, it quickly began to occur to me, some ass backward shit did. Could it be? Then, it began to occur to me that this infantile ditty I had learned to associate with forced frivolity coupled with ironic rigidity and passive-aggressive behaviors best explained in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), was not coming from an electronic device at all. There were actual living humans at fault here once again. More than one of them it would seem. Therefore, I was forced as a response to once again come to grips with the fact that I have always hated that insipid song. My father used to sing that insipid song on an endless basis when I was growing up. If he was going to make inappropriate gestures at song, why couldn’t he try to be more like James Brown instead? That always bothered me about him, though not only that. He would sit cross legged on the floor with his eyes tightly closed as if he was blind and strum his stupid guitar and warble dementedly unlike any beautiful bird I ever heard. Who did he think he was trying to be, Ray Charles? We already knew he was no James Brown. His hips were not only locked, but chained, and cemented. And besides, I conjectured, aren’t all of the Beatles dead, or nearly so, anyway?
Then, suddenly shaken from my inappropriate reverie, it seemed as if what the tawny owl mumbled to me next sounded very much like, “Gotta go be back. Stay.”
Then he was gone. Devoutly, I stayed. I was determined. Who was it that first said endless war without reparations required ultimate sacrifices? Perhaps, the same young and unknown soldier who claimed it was Hell? Or more likely the older assholes back home sipping aged whiskey who sent him there. I mused, and not for the first time, hmm.
But, then, before any additional damage to my mental acuity could be accomplished the tawny owl came back. It didn’t take long at all and I was no less devout or determined.
Upon his return, I said it again, if not louder, but with more context, and a different meaning, at least to me, if still no subtext, “What?”
This time, no mice got in the way of direct and didactic enunciation. I would only learn later what happened to not only those mice, but many other mice as well, which sucked for them big time, surely. At that critical juncture, however, I could only hear the words if still not quite picture the scenario. Not yet. But it was on the way and coming for sure this time.
The tawny owl said, “We want you to create a diversion.”
Instantly, I was thrilled. I may have throbbed with it. I did not need to think hard or long before saying, “I know I can do that.”
Swelling with the great pride of my premature accomplishment, I was thinking, what can be easier?
He said, “That’s what we gonna find out.”