Brief Visitor at Midnight

I went outside at midnight recently, waiting while Star stepped out onto the pebbles in the courtyard to pee. It was deathly cold and moist. I was wearing nothing but sweat pants and an old t-shirt, but I was also wrapped up in my black hoodie.

As soon as I came out onto the concrete porch near the front courtyard, I saw a shape that wasn’t quite right. Fearing the wretched ‘possum that haunts the area (chewing, I suspect, my dog’s droppings), I tensed. Then I saw, by the silhouette, that it was an owl, perched in the shadows on top of the closest AC unit. I didn’t even breathe as I realized what it was; it was soft gray and brown, with horned upturns of feathers rising up over its brow. Slowly it rotated its head, much farther around than should have been possible. It peered at me with these reflective gold eyes, like the tarnished lenses of old flashlights, powered by dying batteries.

I turned my head back to the front door for an instant, to call softly to a friend. I wanted her to see it too. A second later, when I looked back into the dark courtyard, the owl was gone. Even in leaving, it hadn’t made any sounds at all. The effect was jarring, as if it had never been there. I started, spooked by the absence.

Harper’s Yearly Review

Harper’s Yearly Review

Posted on Saturday, December 31, 2005. By Paul Ford

The number of people killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami rose to 230,000. A study showed that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year, and the U.N. predicted that 90 million Africans will have HIV by 2025. An international task force of scientists, politicians, and business leaders warned that the world has about 10 years before global warming becomes irreversible. The U.S. Congress officially ratified President George W. Bush’s election victory after a two-hour debate over voting irregularities in Ohio. Terri Schiavo, Johnnie Cochran, Frank Perdue, Mitch Hedberg, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, and the pope died, as did the man who wrote the theme song to Gidget. An Australian tortoise named Harriet turned 175. General Motors was spending more for health care than for steel, and an increasing number of Americans were heating their homes with corn. El Salvadoran police arrested 21 people for operating a smuggling operation and seized 24 tons of contraband cheese. NASA announced that it wanted to return to the moon.

A study found that the worldwide percentage of land stricken by drought has doubled within the last 30 years. The Jordan River was filled with sewage, and the last of Gaza’s Jewish settlers left their homes on armored buses. Terrorists in London set off bombs on three trains and a bus, killing 52 people; President Bush condemned attacks on innocent folks by those with evil in their hearts. A 13-year-old boy in Kalamazoo accidentally burned down the family meth lab. New Orleans flooded after levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; many evacuees were not allowed to take their pets with them. Snowball! cried a little boy after police took away his dog. Snowball! At least 42,000 people died in an earthquake in Pakistan. It was announced that Cookie Monster would cut back on cookies. Authorities in Malaysia arrested 58 people who worship a giant teapot. Poor people rioted in France.

In North Carolina Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner executed since the United States reintroduced the death penalty in 1976. A 1,600-inmate faith-based prison opened in Crawfordville, Florida. Police began random bag checks of subway passengers in New York City. It was revealed that the CIA had set up a secret system of prisons, called black sites, around the world; it was also revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on Americans without first obtaining warrants. Journalist Judith Miller was released from jail and said she wanted to hug her dog. U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay was arrested; U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis Scooter Libby was indicted. The Pentagon admitted to using white phosphorus during the 2004 attack on Fallujah, Iraq, and allocated $127 billion to build a robot army. The total number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war rose to 2,174, while the total number of Iraqi civilians killed rose to 27,636. We are all waiting for death, said an Iraqi soldier, like the moon waiting for sunset. The U.S. Defense Department, in violation of the federal Privacy Act, was building a database of 30 million 16- to 25-year-olds. The Department of Homeland Security announced that it had wasted a great deal of money and needed much more. Starbucks came to Guantanamo Bay. Scientists began work on a complete, molecule-level computer simulation of the human brain. The project will take at least ten years.

This is Yearly Review by Paul Ford, published Saturday, December 31, 2005. It is part of Weekly Review for 2005, which is part of

Written By Ford, Paul

Sources Harper’s Yearly Review