I met my true love in the dog park. He invited me on a date to pick up 600 pounds of frozen rats and a baby owl.

  • After my divorce, I moved from Los Angeles to Oregon.

  • At the dog park, I started making casual conversation with a man. He invited me out on a date.

  • We picked up 600 pounds of frozen rats to help injured birds.

I wasn't looking for love when I took my rescued mutts to the dog park, and I sure wasn't looking for a gig helping to care for injured birds of prey, but all bets are off when you divorce your childhood sweetheart and move 700 miles north of your hometown.

I spent my first 30 years near Los Angeles. I showed up for Oregon's winter rain and mud in thin Keds, a thinner rain jacket, and no idea how to navigate depression and self-inflicted solitude away from family and friends. I stood in the dog park throwing tennis balls and watched as a tall, handsome man kicked a partially deflated soccer ball for his Sheltie.

The ball rolled my way, and the Sheltie scampered over with his owner in tow. "Those jays are loud today," I said for something to say, pointing to the birds that shrieked overhead.

"Those are Cooper's hawks," the man said. "They're raptors."

"Like dinosaurs?" I said.

He had hazel eyes. "Like birds of prey. I'm Jonathan."

I didn't know then that Jonathan's fiancé had left him, and he'd moved across the country to pursue an MFA in photography in the midst of grief. All I knew was that he studied me standing there ankle-deep in mud, then invited me out on a date.

The date was not what I was expecting

"Would you like to drive two hours up to Portland to pick up six hundred pounds of frozen rats?" he asked.

I'd been on weird dates. An LA boyfriend invited me to drive into the mountains and break bottles to "mitigate his rage." Another asked me on an evening beach walk to watch the Grunion run. He said it with a straight face, and I spent hours in the moonlight looking for nonexistent fish.

"Yes," I told Jonathan in the dog park that day, drenched in the omnipresent rain. "I would love to go to Portland."

We drove up the I-5, and he taught me to recognize red-tailed hawks searching for mice from telephone poles. We counted dozens. At Delta's cargo facility, two men waited next to a tower of boxes marked "Frozen Rodents."

"What the hell are these for?" one said.

Jonathan began loading boxes. "They're food for injured and orphaned raptors," he explained. "They'd hurt themselves trying to chase prey, so we give them thawed rats while they're recovering. You're not going just to sit there, are you?"

This last bit was for me, still wide-eyed in the truck. I hopped out in my ridiculous floral dress and sandals and picked up a box. An hour later, after a lunch in which I couldn't eat because of nerves, I found myself riding back down the I-5 with a pet carrier on my lap.

"Orphaned baby barred owl," Jonathan explained. "Rehabber in Portland's sending it down to learn to fly in our big flight cage."

We got engaged

None of this made sense to me — least of all the fluffy brown-eyed bird I could just make out through carrier's holes. Still, I went along for the ride. When Jonathan asked me if I'd like to clean mews at the Raptor Center, I said yes. When he kissed me, I kissed him back.

I became an environmental educator and owl trainer. I learned to say yes to every weird invitation that came my way. I taught children about Oregon's flora and fauna while dressed like a giant raccoon. I camped on the deck of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry for four nights en route to Sitka's Raptor Center.

And I agreed to marry Jonathan under the trees at our own raptor center with a great-horned owl as our ring bearer.

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