November 14th, 2013

Ode to Owls

As a kid I had to have owls around me. Well, pictures and statues of owls.

Despite having and living with dozens of birds — finches, mynahs, parrots and canaries — my dad wouldn’t let me have an owl as a pet.

Though just recalling and typing that out right now gives me a thrill; thinking what a live owl would have been like. Of course I wouldn’t have kept it in a cage. I would have had a big branch of some sort secured in my bedroom and the owl would have perched there free to do what it wanted to do which is why I could not have an owl as a child.

Note too that childhood was 45 years ago for me, so this was way before any sort of owl meme ricocheted across the internet. After my owl fascination took hold I was also smitten by the astrological logos. So owls and astrology go together for me. You could say the former is a totem for the later; not the most original mascot for an astrologer but at least I made an effort to really secure my own owl when I was a kid.

Fortunately where I live on this island in the Puget Sound we live with owls in the surrounding forests. I’ve only seen three in the twelve years that I’ve lived here. Though at night I will occasionally hear them calling. Their calls are as magnetic and spellbinding as their forward-gaze. You know of course that all birds have their eyes on the sides of their heads. But owls, no! They will stare you right down and hypnotize you, like you were a stock-still rodent.

I’ve a favorite poetry book that I read from time to time, it’s called Bright Wings. It was edited by a poet I admire, Billy Collins, and it has wonderful illustrations by David Allen Sibley of all kinds of birds. And poems that accompany the art. And lots of poems about owls.

Above is one of the paintings for the Great Horned Owl. The text that accompanies this reads:

“The only animal that regularly eats skunks, the Great Horned Owl also preys on birds, including other owls, nestling Ospreys, and adult and nestling American Crows. Flocks of crows congretate from long distances to mob the owls, sometimes cawing at them for hours. A nonmigratory bird, it has an extensive range — almost all of North America, through Central America, and into South America.”

And here is a poem by Annie Finch (her real name) that runs alongside one of the illustrations of the Great Gray Owl (an owl that is the tallest — two to three feet high):

Who knew you would grow from gray bark
So that nothing is separate or new
But your yellow eyes following through
From the mottling brown in the dark,
Spectral Owl — from the spiral, the spark
That the circling feathers lead to?
Who knew you could speak as you do,
Great Gray ghost — who know you could speak?

Nature and its inhabitants can easily cause us to start and pause and fall into wonder; though some creatures more so than others. The owl is one such. His private reverie and intensity is something almost otherworldly. Spectral owl, shuttling us between two worlds while never leaving for a moment this one. How do they do it?

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