I

was sitting down to write this morning, when I heard a chittering. The sound was loud and, even with the window between its source and me, disconcertingly wild. I stood up from my chair to peer over the window sill at the same time something large-ish and feathered hopped up into the lower branches of the tree outside. Reflexively, I took a step back.

We have lived in New Mexico for 11 years now but I cannot pretend to be jaded about roadrunners. A Southern girl, my only exposure to the animal had been Warner Bros. cartoons until Scott came back from a job interview here in the desert, a witness to their real-world existence.

“A roadrunner ran in front of our car!” he reported upon his return. I was rapt, as if he had told me that werewolves had overturned his vehicle on the interstate.

Today, I watched as this particular bird (they’re always bigger than I remember them being—the size of a small dog maybe) worked its way up the branches of our tree. I recalled the time I walked into the office of our church babbling to the secretary that I’d just seen a roadrunner racing through the parking lot.

“They’re exciting, aren’t they?” she said to me, smiling.

I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Upon reflection, I realized that I was certainly behaving as if something pretty exciting had just happened.

Once, when Roy was older than two but younger than three, the two of us watched a roadrunner appear on the rooftop of the house across the street. After covering the length of the roof, it jumped to the ground and progressed quickly from one front yard to the next.

“Ground cheep-cheep,” Roy observed, pleased with himself (as was I).

I have wondered if the Thrill of the Roadrunner is as simple as the mental jangling that comes from the inherent contradiction experienced seeing a bird fly on the ground instead of in the air. I’ve decided it’s more than that. The roadrunner’s size and its herky-jerky, freeze-frame movements call to mind some of the smaller, hungrier denizens of Jurassic Park; and their presence just outside our front door is a startling reminder of just how far removed from the everyday our desert can be.