Friday, August 20, 2010

California Spotted Owl Visitation

Entry for 19 August 2010:

For the past 3 nights, my mom has been receiving nightly visitations from an owl, which on each occasion landed on the rail of her deck. The first two nights there was a cry and a silent visitation while on the previous night my mom had interacted with the owl for several minutes, as they mirrored each other’s head movements, and the owl emitted its haunting cry. What did this mean? It seemed worth further investigation.

Therefore, last night after dinner, we went out and sat on the deck about 8:30. It was dusk and the colors were fading into darkness as we looked out over the valley. We talked and waited and listened as the darkness deepened. After awhile I could barely hear, at the edge of my ability, a long, low cry in the distance, sometimes punctuated by a chattering sound. Since I was a small boy, I’ve loved strange noises (which might have something to do with why my musical tastes are so broad); so I tried imitating the cry with a breathy sort of whistle. After ten or fifteen minutes of this, we noticed that the cries were getting louder, and as they got closer, it began to sound like more than one.

Then suddenly there were cries from the top of the tall tree just below my mom’s house, then from the next tree to the left of it, opposite the deck where we were sitting. There were soft flutterings and a couple of times I saw a shadowy form flitting from one tree to the next. Finally, a third set of cries emanated from the tree above the house. The three owls continued to cry back and forth to each other, and I joined in. Entranced, I’d been sitting on the chaise lounge, out under the stars in order to see better, but I was now struck by a powerful sense of uncanniness, and began to feel terribly exposed sitting out in the open. I felt as though at any moment these three mysterious beings might descend on me, and I was filled with a mixture of exhilaration and terror. I got up and moved under the shelter of table’s umbrella.

My mom and I now really wanted to know who our mysterious visitors were, that is, what kind of owls they might be. I went inside and got my new iPad and brought back it out again. I found and began looking up likely species and listening to their calls. After trying about 20 or these, we finally came to the California Spotted Owl, whose recorded cry closely matched what we’d been listening to. The annotation to the matching cry characterized it an “agitated contact call" which “may be associated with territorial disputes”; it noted that this type of cry is mainly used by females. At some point during the process of trying to explain what we were experiencing, the object of our interest got bored and moved away back down the hill toward the creek. As often happens in life, reflection had replaced direct experience.

Because the two outlined shapes we had glimpsed looked smaller than what my mom had seen the previous nights, she concluded that we had been visited by a mother owl and her two young owlets, whom she was instructing while at the same time checking out the humans who live in their valley. This narrative seems as good as any other, and my mom vowed to continue her Owl Vigil in order to see what might come next.

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