Our proximity to the mountains and trees, when they’re not on fire every summer, makes it possible to breathe clean air and enjoy sounds reminiscent of a village, despite the main road nearby. I await nightfall and the sound of the nightbird.
I came to know the nightbird’s call when I lived in a village outside Olympia. The first lesson I got — delivered calmly, as if to explain drinking a glass of water — was how to handle a snake when (not if) one falls on me in the garden. Not easily frightened, but not a lover of snakes either, I paid close attention and tried to stay away from all trees and arches with growing vines. A half hour later, a snake fell on my boyfriend’s father; he beat it with a stick and paraded around the limp trophy before throwing it in the trash.
Later, I had the chance to view a tzitziki (cicada) from up close after my boyfriend scouted an unsuspecting target on a tree, pounced like a panther and caught it gently between his fingers. “No kill,” he said. After being deafened many a times in summer, I was surprised to see such a small bug, and a rather adorable gray spotted one at that. Observation complete, he was free to go.
After sundown, there was a distinctive ‘birp’ noise in the distance, which could be heard at consistent intervals and sounded solitary. “What kind of bird is that, and is it calling for another bird?” I asked.
“It’s the nightbird. Maybe he’s calling for a mate,” said my companions. “Sorry, I don’t know the English word.”
Night after night, this nightbird called out, only to hear nothing in return. And yet, his call never weakened or ceased. It was many weeks later when one ‘birp’ was finally answered by a higher pitched ‘birp,’ going back and forth for hours, until silence fell into darkness. We assumed it was a happy ending.
For the past month, that cute little ‘birp’ has come back to make me smile. Thanks to Spyro, who is a birding expert, I now know this is a gionis or Otus scops (Scops owl) and what it looks like, but I still like to call him the nightbird.
No matter what chaos I experience during the day, I can come home at night and listen to the persistent, simple and sweet ‘birp’ of the nightbird, reminding me that some things change a lot, but others remain happily the same.
*Sadly, I moved away and can no longer hear him calling. Miss you, birdy.