A Rare Bird

By Anna Mitchael

Yesterday morning my son came down the stairs – slowly, steps uneven

With a rhythm only a wooden-legged pirate or a 6-year-old fresh from sleep could find.

I was sitting on the second-to-last step putting on a sock, one of the hundred mundane human things we all do every day that we don’t think twice about and would never normally write about. But I was sliding this sock over my foot when my son did an unexpected thing: he stopped his march to the breakfast table to sit on the step right next to me. Then, once he was sitting, he tilted his head over and rested it on my left shoulder.

One time I was lucky enough to go on a walk through a Costa Rican rainforest. The point of the walk was to look for rare birds and butterflies. I was, by a country mile, the least educated on birds and butterflies in the group — some people on the tour had flown to Costa Rica just to catch sight of the famed quetzal bird. I hung to the back with my paperback copy of “Birds of Costa Rica” and tried to nod my head intelligently when the guide would stop to say things like “The quetzal would likely never be spotted here,” while the rest of the group would giggle and titter, like they had just found themselves on the inside of the most marvelous joke. About a mile into the walk, the guide suddenly stopped short and very slowly raised a hand in the air so that the group would know he had spotted something, and just like that, eight grown adults froze — mid-step, mid-sentence. For at least a minute we stood still, surrounded by the Costa Rican rainforest. Birds were singing. Trees were swaying. It was, I can tell you, one of the loudest minutes of my life — though just seconds before I wouldn’t have guessed it. Before I froze, the rainforest seemed like a peaceful place. Sure, it had noises, but nothing that was going to overpower Doug from Philadelphia’s tale about the bumpy flight he took, sitting next to a guy who was coming to Costa Rica for the beer and the beaches — but who had never even heard of the quetzal! (Can you believe it?)

Sitting on my staircase now, I thought about that minute in the Costa Rican rainforest. I looked at the sock hanging off the end of my foot and thought about how the job was half done. I thought about how easy it would be to pull up the sock, then stand and walk into the kitchen as I had been planning to do, grab my laptop and go into my study to start my first meeting of that shelter-in-place workday.

But instead, I stayed frozen. As if that Costa Rican tour guide was standing up ahead with his hand in the air, binoculars to his eyes — wisely directing me to something I could not yet see, something I was still too far back in the woods to clearly make out.

Stay and sit. Wait and listen while this moment bangs around inside your heart and your mind with drums and cymbals — louder than you guessed it could be. The rare bird is here. Your trip was worth it.

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