Clare Menahan & Annie Dillard: Startled Into Enchantment

Mar 25, 2015

Clare Menahan recalls a vivid encounter with a great horned owl:

"Every March, my father, sister and I make a pilgrimage to Freezout Lake in northern Montana to witness the snow geese migration. As many as 300,000 snow geese and 10,000 tundra swans gather to rest before flying onward northward. True to its name, Freezout is cold, even in the spring. On one occasion, the winds were so strong that our father had us sit in our tent so it wouldn’t blow away as he staked it to the earth. He amused himself by looking through a pair of binoculars at various birds. Mara and I passed the time flying kites or playing games of our own creation. Sometimes we pretended to be wild horses. In other games, the ground beneath our feet turned to lava and only by standing on rocks of predetermined dimensions could your safety be guaranteed.

Mara and I were in the midst of one particularly challenging game of hot lava when a great horned owl exploded from the bushes a few feet away. It was very likely just as surprised to see us as we were to see it. The owl flew so near Mara’s head, she could’ve reached and touched the underside of one wing. We stared as it flew toward the horizon, silhouetted against a cloud of snow geese, so thick they turned the blue sky to white."

A weasel surprises Annie Dillard in this excerpt from"Teaching A Stone To Talk:"

"A yellow bird appeared to my right and flew behind me. It caught my eye; I swiveled around—and the next instant, inexplicably, I was looking down at a weasel, who was looking up at me.

I'd never seen one wild before. The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut. It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes. If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders. But we don't. We keep our skulls. So he disappeared. This was only last week, and already I don’t remember what shattered the enchantment."

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 3/25/15 & 9/30/15. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)