The phone rang as I was on the way out the door. I dashed back up the front stairs to get it. The little girl across the street was bubbling with excitement; partly because she had been allowed to use the phone but mostly because she had seen a bird. When I asked what it looked like, she said it was mixed up with a green head and a shiny purple body. After running through all of the birds in the field guide in my head, I listened to her prattle on with indulgence but not paying strict attention; assuming it was imaginary. She could hear the distance in my voice and knew I was placating her. In frustration she handed the phone to her mother, who thanked me for listening. We both laughed grown-up laughs.
Hours later, I was pulling weeds in the front flower bed, when a Grackle hopped up onto a low fence. The sunlight caught the sheen of its feather in such a way that it had a green head and a purple body. I finally put the pieces of the mystery bird together. The key word had been shiny. I called across the street to the neighbor girl to ask if this was the bird she had seen. She gave me a pitying glance and an eye-roll. “No,” she said. “That bird is black.” From her angle it was a basic black bird, but from mine, and her’s earlier, it was iridescent.
I now hold onto watching birds through the eyes of a child, where a common black bird can become a thing of beauty, mystery and imagination.
Ah, my littlest neighbor, I promise, next time, I will believe you.