Having arrived in CA in the mid-50s my family witnessed the great boom in development. Things were relatively stable in Casa De Ora till the mid-sixties. A small tract went up on our hill. And in the 70’s the truck farmer out back sold his land for a fortune and houses went in there too.
The top soil in that area varied from about six inches in depth to, depending on the spot, a couple of feet. Below the topsoil were rock and that stuff we called leche, meaning white like milk, a kind of soil left over from when the whole area had been under water. You couldn’t grow anything in that stuff. The developers came in and would terrace the land for their houses and in one afternoon clear off the top soil that had taken maybe a couple thousand years to get there. And then they would truck in topsoil and put it around the houses so people could grow insane lawns.
One year, during my time in the basement, a white tailed kite, a kind of hawk, showed up towards spring and settled in on one particular branch of one particular tree in a gulley down back. I guess they called it a kite because it would fly up, face into the wind, and hang there like a kite especially towards evening. When it spotted something, it would fold its wings and drop like a damn stone and disappear in the weeds. And then it would pop back up out of the weeds sometimes with a mouse and sometimes with nothing. Had it not been for that bird I would have had no idea how many mice were in those weeds.
Then it would go to its particular spot on the particular branch of its particular tree. I observed this spot through a telescope. It was stained from the bird’s kill. I don’t really know how the damn bird did it, but having settled in with its prey it would gut the mouse and start to pecking at the entrails almost immediately.
When fall started to settle in, the bird left and went lord knows where; and amazingly it came back to that particular spot and that particular tree and that particular branch for five years in a row. In the second or third year, I started waiting for the bird in the spring, wondering where it was and would it show up. And when it did show up, I felt satisfaction.
But one summer, the developers came and with their bulldozers starting filling in the gulley area where the bird had its tree. I watched as the dirt piled up and up and finally toppled the bird’s tree. It had been off hunting and I swear, when it came back, that it flew exactly in SPACE to the spot where that tree had been and was no more. It tried to land in SPACE and began to fly in a troubled manner looking for its tree that lay on its side maybe 15 feet below the spot now in space where the bird always landed.
I don’t know why but I found the whole thing fucking heartbreaking. I wanted to say, stupid bird, stupid bird, go away. Your tree is not there. But it kept trying to find the tree and finally it did. It even went to its particular spot on its particular branch. But now it was way too close to the ground. That day it left and never returned.
I wrote a short story about the incident trying partly to explain to myself why it had affected me so. I mailed it off and the editor wrote back that it was one of the most overdrawn and hysterical (in the unfunny sense) story he had ever read. Obviously, I had taken some creative writing courses—which I hadn’t—and had taken from them the worst possible lessons. And as a final gratuitous insult, said I had the worst pseudonym he had ever seen.