The gray lady

2005 November 27
by David J. Ringer

SPRINGFIELD, MO. — I’d heard she was back, and I couldn’t leave Springfield without looking for her myself. I pulled off Fremont into the parking lot of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, and I started scanning the treetops as I crossed the asphalt expanse.

There, on a sawed-off limb near the top of that tree. It must be … yes, there she is. The St. John’s Merlin. The gray lady.

We first made her acquaintance three years ago. A physician-birder noticed her one day, and then everyone wanted to see her, this Merlin in the middle of the city.

That Christmas, the snow was heavy, and as the gray lady hunted sparrows in the parking lot, my grandmother lay dying inside the huge building. I took time once to watch the Merlin, and I felt guilty. Later my grandmother died, just a few hours short of 2003.

We could hardly believe it when the Merlin returned the next year, then the next, and now she is here to spend her fourth winter in the parking lot where the sad and hopeful people come and go.

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The favored haunt of a gray lady.

She didn’t seem to mind my erratic driving beneath her, as I maneuvered for a better look. Her bill is dainty, but it must suit her very well. The strong wind kept her feathers in motion, her long brown flank feathers barred with white, and the white, dark-centered feathers that run along the base of her tail. She is pale and plain above, a prairie bird perhaps.

She stretched and launched herself into the wind, east, over the cancer center.

To see her stirs up my hope. Her journey, her return, these are a reminder — not an analogy — that this is not the end. I wait for things unseen.

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