The first time I heard the owl, I thought of Owl Moon. Many years ago I had read Jane Yolen’s picture book that describes a father and child owling on a cold winter night. “Oh, to have that moment,” I thought the first time I read it. I didn’t even have children at the time, but the story moved me.
Wishes of seeing the owl that was hooting somewhere near my house penetrated dreamy half-slumber. But at 3 a.m., I wasn’t about to climb out of my toasty bed and trek into the cold to go owling myself. Maybe it would come at a time that fit my schedule better?
Many times over the course of a year, we heard the owl, then two owls calling back and forth, then possibly three. Sometimes they were far away. Sometimes we’d swear they were in our yard. At 4 a.m., their calls kept us awake. Still, I never left the comfort of my bed to find them. So much for Owl Moon. I looked up owl calls online, trying to figure out what kind they were. Still unsure, I settled on the Great Horned Owl. That’s a pretty big bird, with a body size of 18 to 25 inches.
One dark evening just as autumn was settling in, we heard hooting. My husband and I listened at the back door and watched as a large bird flew into our tree and another flew out of it. It was too dark and there were too many leaves to see anything else. It then became my mission to see these owls. When the leaves fell, surely I would be able to spot a large owl among our trees.
Something else had happened since the first time we had heard owl calls. At a local park, a pair of Barred Owls had been attracting visitors daily. While walking with a friend there a few months ago, I tried to show her where I had seen an owl hanging out back in the thick trees. I told her to look closely, but you can often spot them because of their size. We didn’t see one so we walked on.
A few feet away, my friend threw her arms out like an overprotective mother. Three feet above my head, gazing down at me, was a Barred Owl. Being so close to a wild owl was breathtaking, but neither of us wanted to walk under that tree branch. We felt a little like that huge bird would pluck one of us up and fly away. But it was a sight and I wished my kids could have seen it.
photo credit: Janet Wright
That made me want to see the mysterious owls in our yard even more. Please wouldn’t they show themselves after all this time?
One night at home, the owls did come early again. At 8:30 I heard the distinct call. Cold or no, this was my chance to go owling. My daughter and I bundled up and walked around the yard, listening to the owls’ calls. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Leaves crunched under our feet. We looked in all the trees, certain we’d see the silhouette of a large owl on the bare branches. The cold air nipped at our fingers. Our breath puffed like bursts of steam. Beyond the moonlight, stars twinkled. It was just us and the sounds of the owls. Then whispers. A flash of movement to the right. My daughter thought she saw something land and take off far away. We couldn’t be sure.
We stood side by side in the cold, still looking for owls. Silent. Still. Just the stars and us. We waited for the chill to take over our bones, for our feet to grow numb. We searched the stars, the branches, one another’s faces. With each frosty breath, we took it all in. Silence. We never saw an owl, but I wasn’t disappointed. All I could think was, “I hope she never forgets this moment.”