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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO -- A screech owl, blind in one eye, was rehabilitated at the Clearwater Sanctuary in Covington. An animal ophthalmologist evaluated the bird before recommending it be released into the wild.

In a year gripped by pandemic, many of us have been paying more attention to backyard nature on homebound days, a small consolation in a troubled summer. But in Louisiana, you don’t have to look far to discover wild things; they have a way of finding you.

That came to mind one evening last month as our family ate dinner on the patio. When dusk fell, a screech owl arrived on the arbor just above us, almost close enough to touch. While his head slowly swiveled like a periscope, he eyed each person at the table, apparently trying to decide if he should eat us. After a few quiet moments, he flew off in search of better fare, quickly vanishing within the canopy of a nearby oak.

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I’ve seen the owl a few more times at dusk, the time of day when he starts to hunt. The other evening, as I was putting the yard to bed, he screeched at me from a low limb, seeming displeased that I had disturbed his work.

Sunset is like the change of a work shift at our place. We lock up the gates, roll the garbage bins to the curb, and hand off the day to the owls, possums and raccoons who prowl the lawn while we sleep. When I step into the yard after dark, maybe to fetch some shovel or hoe I’ve forgotten to put away, I sometimes create a stir among the night creatures who regard me as an interloper.

I hear frogs hopping into bushes, and, occasionally, I manage to startle a mockingbird, known for singing through the night, into temporary silence. Only when I’m back inside, it seems, does the night resume its old pattern.

I’m not always ready to go inside on summer nights, but the mosquitoes usually drive me into the house. Before the day ends, though, there can be pleasure in watching it go.

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Dusk is my wife’s favorite time of day, especially in summer. The light dims from its blanching intensity, and the green of the grass and trees is softly luminous — achingly beautiful, like some landscape painting an artist has brought to perfection.

What my wife likes best about dusk, I think, is its pleasing moderation, its quiet insistence on being neither glaring nor dark, but just right.

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Little else in a Louisiana summer is moderate. The sun seems stuck for hours in high noon, as if following the script of a Western that’s been grossly overwritten. Each long day brings its quotient of drama, even for the quiet souls who stay at home. The other morning, while she was trying to keep our dotty old terrier from wandering to the neighbors, our daughter stepped on a king snake. She was startled, of course, and he was surely startled even more.

We haven’t seen him since. Social distancing, it turns out, is something snakes can learn, too.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.