I first came to Prague a few years ago, for a day of R&R between leading workshops in Lithuania and Romania. I found the city beautiful, but was soon exhausted by the immense crowds of tourists trooping about after tour guides hoisting little flags and umbrellas. I fled the mob at the castle for a quiet section of the Royal Gardens next door.
It was there, as I loitered in the shade of a linden tree, listening to the gentle plashing of a fountain, that a young woman greeted me with the question, "Have you met Arthur?"
I turned and found that Arthur was an owl, perched on her falconer's glove. An eagle owl, to be precise, very large and strong.
She invited me to meet Arthur's companions, raptors rescued by her volunteer service, which had several of them available for meet-ups in a small area off the gardens. I met an eagle, a hawk and a little merlin falcon, which reminded me that the Merlin of legend is also a shapeshifter who - in one account - retired from the world into an "esplumoir", which is where a falcon goes to grow back its feathers.
The raptor rescuer also proved to be a dreamer, and I cherished our half hour of talking the language of dreams, and of birds.
Today I walked the Royal Gardens again in the middle of the day, prior to opening my first program in Prague. I enjoyed sticking my head under the splendid fountain in front of the Belvedere to hear why it is known as the Singing Fountain. I admired the Deer Moat below the castle, and enjoyed a glass of red wine from the Wenceslas Vineyard at a table overlooking the city and several of its seven hills.
But my great pleasure was to chance upon a sign for the raptor rescue area. Different birds, and different volunteers, were there today. I was glad to see them, but I missed Arthur. I was on my way back into the Gardens when I saw him - or his double - on a wall at the back, well away from the visitors. I moved as close as I could without jumping the barrier, and we gave each other a long look that ended with what I chose to take as a sign of recognition. Nice to be welcomed back by a friend who can see in the dark.