Anomalous as it may seem, winter is upon us in Southern California (hey, we’ve got lows in the 40’s this week!). Because the owls are back, and that means, definitively, winter. We’ve heard a pair hooting softly back and forth on our property every winter for years, and last week they announced their return presence the same night the temperature dropped enough for the CE to bring some wood in for our bedroom fireplace. And last night, walking Lily after dark, we heard a startled screech from a branch above us that we decided could only have been an owl.
I don’t know where they go from March until November. Do owls migrate? A little north-woods cabin for the summer months? Perhaps an extended cruise in Alaska? They are so elusive it seems they mostly appear only as mythical creatures in children’s literature. Winnie the Pooh had his Owl and Harry Potter had Hedwig. Other beloved owls graced our bookshelves while our kids were growing up:
We missed out on this one – perhaps I can convince a grandchild to read it with me.
Owls have fascinated me ever since I stood outside one December night years ago and a whoosh of owl wings passed just above my head. I felt I’d somehow been anointed into a secret society, because, of course, owls, mostly unseen, achieve a mythical, archetypal status in our imagination. And perhaps because they are rarely seen or heard, they are more or less absent in adult literature. All I can find is Patricia Highsmith’s lesser work The Cry of the Owl, published in 1962, and I think an owl factors into the story only as a harbinger of dark deeds.
Awhile back, I enjoyed the memoir Wesley the Owl: A Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacy O’Brien, a somewhat cautionary tale about the rigors of keeping an owl as a pet. In the same vein is The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl by Martin Windrow. If you’re keeping company with owls, I sense you’re not getting out much except to fetch their weekly ration of frozen mouse-cicles from the pet store.
There are other non-fiction options, many with wondrous photos that make it appear as if owls are everywhere to be seen and snapped. If that is so, how do I never see an owl?
Not only do I never see an owl in real life but the closest I can get for my bookshelf is David Sedaris’ New Yorker article and his book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls which features a selection called Understanding Understanding Owls. The actual owl content may be wanting, but I know it will be hilarious reading. A click of an Audible credit and it is my walking companion for the next few weeks!
Meanwhile, I do still long for an actual owl sighting and have thus added it to my bucket list right between “win the lottery” and “stay in an ice hotel”. In other words, not holding my breath, although I did find this handy resource just in case I’m ever near Heath, Ohio or Castile, New York. I guess it’s not surprising that to find owls, one must go a bit off the beaten path. They’re worth it!
Clocks belled twelve. Main street showed otherwise
Than its suburb of woods : nimbus—-
Lit, but unpeopled, held its windows
Of wedding pastries,
Diamond rings, potted roses, fox-skins
Ruddy on the wax mannequins
In a glassed tableau of affluence.
From deep-sunk basements
What moved the pale, raptorial owl
Then, to squall above the level
Of streetlights and wires, its wall to wall
Wingspread in control
Of the ferrying currents, belly
Dense-feathered, fearfully soft to
Look upon? Rats’ teeth gut the city
Shaken by owl cry.
— Sylvia Plath