By Mike Fiorito
My wife Alicia, my son Isaac, and I continue biking to the Parade Grounds at Prospect Park, riding down the tree-lined streets on Argyle. The sky is as big and blue as the ocean. It’s cool but not cold. Feels like spring is near.
Cycling down Argyle, I look up at the great big trees that canopy the street. I’m learning their names. Some are maples, oaks, pines, and some are elms. They lean in as if enveloping us. I swear I can hear them humming; there is enough silence these days to hear the trees’ otherwise-inaudible sounds. The sound is like a slow-moving wooden crank. There’s a high-pitched whinnying, too. Or is that a breeze? Breathing in the mix of smoky, woody aerosols from the oaks and the minty scents of the pines, I feel invigorated. As if the trees emit an anesthetic, dusting the life around them with a curative. They are webbed in fungi, lichen, and bacteria, behaving like a single organism. Mostly going unnoticed, the trees are a part of a rich ecosystem of plants, insects, animals, and birds—a mighty mosaic of life.
During the pandemic, or maybe because of it, I realize that the trees protect us.
Now at the park, we leave our bikes near the fence. We even take our masks off. Nowadays, each family declares an area for themselves. No one interacts with each other.
The Parade Grounds hold about twelve full soccer fields, plus three baseball diamonds. Even for Brooklyn, this is a lot of room. Many people have left New York City, either going back to their hometowns, or staying with parents in the suburbs. Some people have fled New York City for good.
I pull out the frisbee and football. Isaac, Alicia and I run around, alternating frisbee and football tosses. It feels good to have the sun warm our faces. We get out of breath playing. Throwing the ball to Isaac, I wonder if he gets the concept of catching. He’s gotten better than he was last year, but he has far to go.
“When the ball comes to you, grab it with both hands, but don’t slap the ball,” I say. I look up now, searching for signs of the blue orbs. I don’t see them.
As I throw it to him, he slaps his hands together at the oncoming ball, knocking the ball away.
“It’s called catch for a reason,” I say with a smile.
“Maybe it should be called drop,” he replies, smirking. Funny, this is exactly what I was thinking.
I throw the ball again and he knocks it away again. It’s just going to take time. For some reason, I worry that he’s not going to learn how to play catch. I want him to learn how to be athletic, how to be strong, how to use his body. Despite my worry, I try to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the time. We haven’t been outside a lot. It’s nice to move beyond our cramped little apartment and run around in the sunshine. We’re together all the time. We are playmates and antagonists. We are all we have.
We’re now at 100,000 COVID-related deaths in the United States, with New York City boasting the lion’s share of fatalities. The Breaking News Update banner displays the death-toll milestone, scrolling in an infinite loop.
A few days later, I get up before everyone and go out for a walk. Being trapped in the apartment is beginning to wear on me. It’s 5AM, no one is on the street. It’s still dark out. There is an eerie quiet, except for the boisterous bird chirping, which ricochets off the sky, as if this piece of Brooklyn is in a bottle. My nose fills with the smell of the ocean only a few miles away at the end of Coney Island.
Our neighborhood, Midwood, is residential, with tree-lined streets and houses with big porches, some with beautifully flowered gardens. The name, Midwood, derived from the Middle Dutch word, Midwout, meaning middle woods, was what the settlers of New Netherland called this area of dense woodland midway between the towns of Boswyck (Bushwick) and Breuckelen (Brooklyn).
Even this early, I’m thinking about my workday schedule. Despite the chaos of the pandemic, I’m still busy taking meetings, talking to clients, and writing reports.
Being early in the morning, there’s an odd mixture of light from the streetlamps and the sunlight just beginning to break. The day begins with a yellowed glow. I look up at the sky to see if the blue orbs will make a showing. Nothing.
From a distance, I see something standing in the middle of the street. Whatever it is, it’s not on the sidewalk; it’s right in the center of the road. Perhaps it’s a traffic cone, blocking cars from entering. Maybe there is construction going on. Even as I get closer, I can’t make out what it is. Now I see that it’s not orange like a traffic cone; it’s white and slightly grey. It’s moving.
“Is someone out there?” I say, continuing to approach whoever or whatever it is.
Now I hear something whir from above me. I look up at the sky. Three blue orbs zip across my field of vision. I can’t focus on them. They’ve moved too quickly for me to be sure.
I rub my eyes, making sure I’m not seeing things. Now I focus again on what is in front of me, moving sideways, as if that will help me protect myself should whatever it is coming rushing at me.
Can it be so? What? As my eyes begin to focus, I see a three-and-a-half-foot tall owl standing sentry smack in the middle of the street. I slow down, approaching it cautiously. It’s snow-white and speckled with grayish dots. Its eyelids open and close like shutter doors; its claws scrape the ground, clenching. I should probably be scared, but I’m not. I’m in awe of its beauty. Yet, this creature can claw my eyes out of their sockets or pull a chunk of flesh from my body. I continue sideways toward it. We’re now staring at each other. I can see the cobalt blue of its eyes which begin to glow as if there is a backlight illuminating them. I begin to chuckle, even if a tad nervously. I’ve entered the owl’s domain and it’s not going to yield. The owl’s sharp eyes suggest a very high intelligence, certainly higher than mine. Like its mind is as old as the universe. I’m just a silly human, unable to comprehend the wild things of the world.
Bored with me, the owl’s head now swivels a full three-hundred and sixty degrees on his neck. Suddenly, he shutters his eyelids again, swivels his head, spreads out his wings, nearly eight feet from end to end, and flies off. I watch him soar up into the sky. I swear I see three cobalt blue orbs trail the owl, as if they’re flying off together.