Birdwatchers International

(The Spanish Governor’s Palace, San Antonio, Texas, april 2011)

It’s insanely hot outside, so I’m doing what every native of Aix, man or beast, learns to do at an early age: I’ve found a fountain and I’m staying next to it. I’ve just got my brushes and watercolour out, to have a decent excuse to sit around for an hour or two. I’m just about to get some water from the fountain, when–

"Excuse me, I’m really sorry to disturb you, but would you like to see an owl?"

"An owl?"

"In the tree up there. Would you like to see? I’ve been observing it for a few days, and I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I’m so excited I want to share it!"

Of course I want to see an owl. I always want to see owls, they’re so beautiful and so discreet. So the lady leads me to the bottom of the garden, right under the wall.

"See up here in the branches? It’s a barred owl. He’s over twenty inches tall, and he weights two or three pounds. Too bad he’s got his eyes closed right now, he has such lovely eyes… Oh, look, he’s looking at us! See his eyes?"

The owl starts grooming, lazily. The tree is very tall and he sits fifteen or twenty metres above us, and he couldn’t care less about who’s watching him. I think he finds the weather too hot as well, from the way he hides in a cool recess in the leaves. But then, it is indeed much too hot.

"Where are you from?" the lady asks me. "You have a beautiful accent."

The owl blinks at us, the white and brown pin-stripes in his feathers shift like sand in a bottle as he unruffles them and settles back to sleep. I think we don’t impress him very much. I tell the lady about the swallows under the bridges, and the swifts that must have started migrating back to Aix. Then I go back to the fountain, while a group of schoolchildren walk into the garden, and soon they’re squealing excitedly about the owl. 

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