I am riding home from the farmer’s market when I see a raven flying toward me with a mouthful of white. I stop to watch. He lands in a fan palm beside the bike path. I wish I had my binoculars. I want to know what he’s holding in his beak. When I first saw him, I was afraid he had a bird, but now I don’t think so. It looks like a huge clump of cotton but less dense, a shock of fluffy white against the smooth shiny black of him. I wait. I think he will put this big prize in his nest, but he only sits there. He makes those smooth guttural sounds I love so much, and another raven answers. I look over and see her sitting two trees down, matching white stuff in her mouth. On the first palm, I see a spot that juts out, and I think it might be a nest. I keep waiting. Then I realize I’ve interrupted them. I apologize and ride away. For a moment, I cry—because I am the intruder, because they are afraid of my kind. Later, I hope I didn’t dim the glory of their bright snowy find.
I am riding across the bridge on Sunrise in the afternoon weeks later. I glance down toward the golf course and see a handful of egrets wading in the shallow water. It takes me by surprise. I’ve only seen my lone egret all this time. I try to find him in the cluster of birds, but no one looks quite like him. They all seem smaller, less regal. I am flabbergasted in some odd way. Where did they all come from? Does he know they’re here? Could these guys become his friends, his family? Later I see my neighbors on the creek path. They ask me if I’ve seen the egret. Yes, I tell them. And I tell them about the ones I saw by the overpass. They seem as surprised as I am. I think about the photographer, about the man in the red hat. I wonder how many more we are, imagine scores of us each having a relationship with this one exquisite bird. What did our egret think of all our attention? And then for a moment I wonder if he is more than an egret.
On the way home from the farmer’s market, I take a detour on my bike to see how much water is in the creek. I see two men, one standing very still with a big brown dog sitting at his feet, the other wielding a camera with a large telephoto lens. I slow way down as I ride past them, not wanting to disturb his shot. Then I see the egret standing in the middle of the creek. I keep going, afraid if I stop he might decide to leave the camera’s eye. I turn around at the bridge and stop to see the egret on the way back. The photographer and his companions are gone, but there are two men watching the egret from the path on the opposite side of the creek. One is wearing a red hat. I think I get almost as much pleasure looking at them as I do the egret. It makes me feel so good to know they treasure him, too. We all stand watching for a long time. The men move off, and the egret leaves, too. I watch him fly south, weaving his way between the fan palms. I turn my head for a moment when a bicyclist comes by, and when I look back the egret has disappeared. I wonder if he’s my morning egret. The day feels like it’s come full circle.
My shoulders jump, and I bring my bike to a stop. I’d surprised an egret when I came around the bend on the path, his big wings ready to launch himself at the whoosh of my sudden presence. His flurry of flapping startled me in return. Now he is standing off a bit on the golf course looking back at me. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “You scared me, too.” I laugh. “I had no idea you were there.” He stretches his neck, listening, watching me. “I’m coming back in a few minutes,” I warn him. “I’ll be more careful,” I say, and I push myself off again. I have decided to be “smart” on a busy day, taking my bike on the path instead of walking so I can go to Ralph’s on the way home, buy bird seed and cat litter. But maybe in my rush of doing I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels good to be out, my wild wispy orange scarf keeping my neck warm as I ride. I pass a man with a grumpy face walking his dog. When I turn around and ride past him again I smile, and he almost smiles back. I slow down when I get back to Egret Bend, and I am surprised and glad to see him standing there, his tall, slim form still brilliant in the late dusk. I stop again, and we watch each other a bit more. I don’t know what I say, small endearments, high praise. He stretches his neck and moves his head as though he is following the arc of my words. “Safe night,” I wish him as I begin to ride away. “Sweet dreams.” I look for him and see him again each evening for a week, his stark, graceful form pure white and meandering in the distance. He is always alone.
I’m riding my bike home from the laundromat on the path that runs along Highway 111 when two motorcycles fly past on the road. My body startles and cringes, shock to ears and cells and heart. “Why aren’t things like that outlawed?” I shout to the hot air as I push the pedals in the afternoon heat. “There’s no reason we should have to live with that kind of blaring, grating noise,” I say. I am only grumbling now, my heart finding its rhythm again. I want to live in a world without cars, I think for the fourth time this week. But is there such a place, one without sacrificing all connection to the modern world? If I flee to the country, there is still always a highway somewhere nearby, the steady background of engines and heavy masses moving past. Do any of our communities ban vehicles, the way some ban leaf blowers? If I had moved to Todos Santos ten years earlier, it would have still been a slumbering fishing village on the rise, only a thin ribbon of traffic on the highway marring the quiet. But when the burgeoning expatriate community started building their homes, the first thing the locals did with their money was buy big shiny pickup trucks. What would it have been like to make my way across town on the dirt roads there without a car in sight?
When I visited Guanajuato, I was thrilled to discover several blocks of their downtown closed to traffic. The streets were for us, for humans walking or climbing the crisscrossing stairways up the steep hillsides, the callejones that branched off all over the small city. I wanted to live there, stood for a long time in the middle of the road studying a house for rent and dreaming. And Ajijic was not a town with motorcycles screaming through it. The narrow cobblestone streets did not lend themselves to speeding. Instead, expats ambled past in golf carts, kids drove ATVs and somber middle-aged caballeros rode their horses, or practiced their parade gaits on a quiet street, the hard hooves ringing against the cobblestones, more music than noise. But here, where many of the surface streets have a 50 or 55 miles-per-hour limit, there are always huge blocks of steel hurtling past you. I shrug off my momentary terror at the motorcycles roaring past and the anger that followed it and keep my bike moving west, glad of the small buffer of palm trees between the highway and the bike path. All those loud chunks of heavy metal rocketing by are disconcerting, a constant looming threat to skin and bones. I wonder, not for the last time, if there is a village or an island in this world without cars I might one day call home. Maybe I need to give Guanajuato another look.