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Suszynski: Hollowed in

In the beginning, the owls were not yet a part of my life. When the ski resort closed, I was still making tracks in the snow, hoping that if I turned back, they would be gone. I did not want to see where I had come from.

Two weeks into staying in my corner of the world, I spotted four baby owls in the big cottonwood in my parent’s backyard. When I was growing up, we often had owls in the spring, but I was too busy to take note of them.

Now, I find that I depend on their changes. The way their fluff turns into discernible feathers. The curious angle of their heads as they emerge from their hollow. Just last week, the babies started testing their weight on the branches.

I’ve been watching these owls as part of a project. One of my favorite books is called “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs.” The book is about Eben, a bored boy who wants to see more of the world. His feelings are exacerbated by the fact that he is stuck in his small Missouri town.

His father challenges him to find the seven wonders of Sassafrass Springs in his own backyard, and as an award, his dad will get him a train ticket to see the West. Eben discovers that his neighborhood is filled with people who are more interesting and thoughtful than he ever gave them credit for. And the neighbors, at first wary of his mission, open up to sharing the stowed away myths of their lives. With their help he discovers a loom that weaves the truth, a flying outhouse, a spooky kitchen table and an evil ship in a bottle, among other seemingly ordinary objects.

I have started my own wonder-finding in my parent’s backyard. I have not spent a long stretch of time here since my first summer after freshman year of college and my childhood home feels both familiar and peculiarly different. In the mid-morning heat, the ice plant by the pond opens up to catch the gold of the sun. If I step near the patch of flowers, butterflies that were hidden just a moment before erupt to life around my legs.

At 6:14 p.m., the light comes in through my window and hits the dried baby’s breath on my dresser to make shadowed mosaics on the wall. I place a sticky note on the farthest shadow each day. When I explain how time has changed during these strange months, I try to describe the shape of the colorful notes on the wall. Time is the length of my hair, and time is the fact that I must still cut my fingernails. Although the world has paused, I am still in motion.

In the counting of small wonders, I have found that big wonders happen too. Like when I watched, not knowing at the time, the last flight of the baby owls from their roost in the cottonwood. Their departure coinciding with the soft green envelopes pushing green leaves into the spring air, the heat settling into the roads. The simple action of being open to observing changes has shown me that I do not need to count successes, mountains summited, cliffs spotted and landed, or coves discovered.

I can take my time to marvel at the fact that those big owls with wide wingspans were balls of fluff hidden against the bark of the cottonwood. I will remember that the ice plant was brown and shriveled in the snow when I first took steps away from it.

Wonder is boundless and unquantifiable. In trying to quantify the slant of light, I pulled old sticky notes from my childhood desk and stood in awe of the shapes they made. To see things differently would be to adjust to the differences that have arrived and taken root in our lives. I have to practice the action.

Time is shockingly irreversible, the owls did not look back at me when they took flight. This fact, both comforting and unsettling, has driven me to measure my progress in how I find meaning in small observations.

I think it’s also worth noting that Eben wanted to explore the far reaches of Colorado. Although, a bit coincidentally, he went to St. Louis instead because his relatives in the West warned of an ensuing influenza epidemic.

Anna Suszynski is a copy editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at asuszynski@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Instagram @annasuszynski or on Twitter @anna_suszynski.


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