Here, in Oregon, at our new home in town, Mourning Doves have my attention. Their baritone voices resonate from perches in nearby trees and from the tops of phone poles along the street. These birds are wonderful fliers. They are fast, able to climb and dodge rapidly as they move from spot to spot announcing greetings or alarms, gossiping and flirting with their spouses. A whistling of their wings characterizes their takeoffs. These sounds are in addition to the plaintive cooing from which they take their name.
Birdsong is one reward for being an early riser. Recently, I sat on my back porch at dawn, prior to the bird’s awakening. I’d been reading, by the light of my iPad, the second installment of a trio of crime procedurals by Ben H. Winters. The title of the first book is The Last Policeman. The latest is Countdown City.
The premise of the initial offering is that a detective investigates what appears to be a routine suicide. Certain clues don’t seem to fit just right for the cerebral mind of the protagonist, Inspector Palace. So, a classic mystery, but wait, why bother? You see, the catch and what makes this classic noir unique is the back-story: the world is facing an unavoidable cataclysm. An asteroid is destined to hit the earth in approximately six months. Its point of impact is unknown when the story begins. What is known is that the asteroid is more than five miles in diameter and the impact will result in chaos, if not totally ending life on our planet.
The second book in the series continues the theme. However, the asteroid’s arrival is palpable as it closes in on earth. Now, officer Palace works a missing person case, which, given the circumstances of the asteroid’s relentless approach, is yet another “why bother” type of investigation. Nonetheless, the dogged detective continues to follow clues. Work is what makes sense to him.
I love a good mystery and am savoring the latest offering from this author. The plot of these books provides a fascinating metaphor to the mindset of someone diagnosed with cancer. We live with the reality that our own personal asteroid has been identified. It’s out there; it’s coming our way. Our future is precarious, perhaps even grimly pre-determined. We wonder when the relapse will strike the planet of our body. Accordingly, routine behaviors get questioned for their worthiness. Why bother to get those teeth implants? Why maintain a blog detailing the minutiae of living the life with my cancer, multiple myeloma, which is considered incurable?
These are reasonable questions. Detective Palace, does not question the motives of his persistence in the face of apocalypse. The fictional world of these mysteries is slowly breaking down due to the pending disaster. People are quitting their jobs to pursue bucket lists; suicide is rampant. A semblance of order remains but the thread holding it all together is getting thinner and thinner. Therefore, the detective’s colleagues poke fun at what they consider wasted effort in solving the cases in question. Part of the book’s attraction lies in consideration as to whether Officer Palace is a mindful savant, or merely unimaginative.
On the morning mentioned above, I stopped reading Countdown City. I set my iPad aside and listened as the ubiquitous doves began arriving with a whirr of wings. Their dulcet tones serenaded me as I contemplated the questions posed by the mysteries of the novels and my cancer.
When we first moved to town, someone said that the doves were an invasive species. I have since learned that they are native to the area. It is we humans who have encroached on their territory. The birds are making the best of it, nesting in the ornamental trees and finding sustenance in the undeveloped land that slants eastward down to the Hood River.
Personally, I’m not one for bucket lists, other than maybe the search for the perfect chili relleno. Apart from that, I take delight in observing the ordinary. Good books, along with the company of these gentle, adaptable birds suffice, for the time being, to keep me happy in the shadow of my cancer. It’s things such as this that make sense to me.