Friday, February 20, 2009
The Year Of The Owl
For Christmas, my husband gave to me this lovely, delicate vase. It's only about 5 inches tall. It's a fragile, nearly ephemeral object. Little did he know, that a few weeks later, the Maine Audubon Association would have a talk about owls. Of course, we had to see that! There were 6 types of owls on display. They ranged from the smallest, this Saw Wet Owl that looks like a tiny monkey, and is no bigger than a soda can, to a huge, threatening looking Eurasian Eagle Owl. All of the owls were captive due to injuries and would never be returned to the wild. Nonetheless, they had the wild in their eyes, even the little guys. I've seen a few owls in my lifetime in the wild. One morning a year ago I saw a Barred Owl perched on our pier. The pier sticks 120 feet out into the ocean, so the owl looked quite out of place. It sat there for at least an hour before taking off into the sun
rise. About that same time, I saw a Barred Owl sitting atop a piece of driftwood at Popham Beach State Park. Sequin Island Lighthouse could be seen in the background of where the owl sat, another incongruous scene. An owl and surf on the beach just didn't look natural together. A couple of times at night, I have seen Snowy Owls fly low across the road over my head while I have been driving. Not just because they are white, but because they are so big, they look live living ghosts, mystical beings cruising the earth for spirits to take with them. The times I've seen them at night in the wild I felt as if I'd had some spooky visitation.
On January 4th of this year, a Northern Hawk Owl was first sighted near here in Bristol Mills. I've been there five times to see it and to take photographs. I'm thinking that maybe I should join some kind of support group for this compulsive behavior, "Northern Hawk Owlers Anonymous" or something like that. Northern Hawk Owls are very rare here. Hundreds of birders have made the pilgrimage to Bristol to see this particular owl. The draw is that it is rare and also that it sits in a dead tree right on the side of the road, so it's easy to view. One need hardly leave one's vehicle, though everyone seems to. We all get out of our cars, shielding our eyes from the sun as we peer up into the tree, enduring bitter cold and other inconveniences But I think that there's something else that draws people to birds of prey in particular. I think it's the wild in their eyes. They have an other wordly look as they stare at you and at the same time, look right through you. You could be lunch. This is at once, disturbing and unnerving, yet compelling. It's a look that makes us feel vulnerable and we are fascinated by that as much as we fear it. It's an edgy thrill to look into the face of a thing that at least thinks it could kill you. Once we've made eye contact, we can't look away from a snake, an ax murderer, nor a bird of prey. The survival of birds of prey, because of where they are on the food chain, are especially subject to the impact of man's hand on the environment. They are more vulnerable than they know. And, so are we, as a race and as individuals. We like to say that the owl has great wisdom, 'HOO, HOO,' "Who are you?" We tell our children, "The owl knows." And perhaps the owl really does know, after all. The owl may know that he and we will one day be gone from this earth. We will have stared right through every other living thing having regarded it all as fair for the taking, until it's all gone. I just wish that with one of the owl visitations that may be in my future, that the owl would pass on to me a dollop of wisdom like a coughed up pellet, the wisdom to change the course for us all.