Owl Talk

Last night I dreamt of owls. I was in a large room with a group of hikers following a difficult walk. One of the guys had captured a screech owl and was stuffing it, alive, with marshmallows, the tiny colored ones that you might add to a cup of cocoa. Marshmallows seemed to float from the small bird’s mouth. I apprehended the young guy who thought his act was pretty cool. What the *uck?, I shouted. Anger management was off the charts. Expletives and curses crashed into every corner of the crowded room. The owl whisperer let his feelings known. No poor owl should have to suffer the indignity of being stuffed with a confection of marshmallow root.

Some of us know better than to mess around with owls. I’m not a superstitious guy, but respect for the forces of nature is an issue I dealt with long ago, a theme that surfaced in my first collection of published poems called Talking to the Owls.

…Since the birth of rodents, flowering/ Plants, they have radiated toward/ Our dreams, hunting various avenues/ For prey. Across the river road/ Shadows drift from vine to vine…

Following the marshmallow dream, I stepped from the house into darkness on the way to work. An owl called from the hill across the road. Eight hoots signified the barred owl, each note echoed by another bird in the distance of the woods. I paused to listen: alternating volleys, barred owls going at it in the pre-dawn night, and in some way it was recognizable by a part of me that lived when all of us were more closely connected to wild nature. It’s possible that by simply standing there and listening in the dark, I was answering the call of owls.

It’s an ancient theme, still relevant today… “When from woods the call of an owl is heard, the passer-by must repeat it, challenge a reply. The bird’s refusal augers death.” I can’t recall the source of those lines that I included in one of my early poems, but its metaphor is one that I’ll stand by today. Owls are fascinating creatures, and when I hear them I always try to heed.

“… I hoot,/Whistle, shriek… The bird replies…”

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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6 Responses to Owl Talk

  1. Howard Kogan says:

    Very well said!

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Hi Walt,
    A timely post, I must say! I work third shift, and as an effort to get “unfat”, I go for a walk almost nightly. Just the other night as I started on my trek, I heard at least three Great Horneds calling to each other on the hillside across the Conewango. I stood and listened to the night music for several minutes, trying to determine their numbers and location before launching a few “whoo whoo, whoo, whoos” of my own. They didn’t respond. They never do, even though I do a pretty mean Barred Owl’s “who-cooks-for-you…” and a nice Screech Owl’s spooky trill. Farther along my route, I consistently hear a couple of birds making what I can best describe as a raspy shriek. It’s always in the same general location, and if I try to get close they move. I can only surmise that they are young owls, probably Great Horned, as I’ve witnessed (several years ago)and read that young ‘uns will make this call. A positive ID will probably remain a mystery, because there ain’t no sneaking up on an owl, try though I might!

    • Bob, I guess that’s the beauty of owling– not only can’t we see the birds at night, we can’t really approach them either, any more than a rabbit can. I would guess that what you’re hearing there at one point of the walk is, as you state, the young ‘uns, probably great horned owls. I, for one, miss hearing the big birds. We used to have them here each season, but I don’t think I’ve heard the Great, locally, in years. Not sure why that is, we seem to have plenty of territory and prey for them, along with other species that you might suspect. Yeah, I’m hearing a lot of young and single owls of late, the nesting season pretty much shut down. It’s good that you have a regular walk routine. I often tell myself that I should night walk, like night fish, more regularly, but you know how it is. I take it you live near the Conewango (sp. w/ second n, after the a? I’ve seen the spelling with and without). Have wondered how the streams are faring out your way. The pace should be picking up shortly. Hey, thanks for thedetailed response!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Hi Walt,
    Yeah, I live a couple of blocks from the Conewango, about a mile and a half upstream from its confluence with the Allegheny. It originates in Chautauqua County and drains Chautauqua Lake and most of the extreme western part of New York. Oddly enough, I’ve never fished it, though guys I know rate it as a fairly good warmwater stream with a healthy population of smallies, and in some areas, some decent pike, probably muskies as well. Fishing-wise, it’s been a pretty poor year overall, at least for me. The drought had eliminated most of the smaller streams as an option, and the Allegheny below Kinzua Dam has been running higher than average, due to the need for water to navigate the locks and such near Pittsburgh. Not real “user-friendly” for the wade fisherman. However, I have tied up some Geo. Harvey night fly variations, getting closer to doing that night time thing! Oh, and there is a Conewago creek, farther east and south, I believe, in Pennsylvania.

    • Bob, Thanks for the stream update out your way. I’m never quite sure if you’re in NY or PA. Probably like myself, you’re pretty damn close to the border. Yeah, Conewago is the stream I’ve read about in Landis, and Conewango I’ve also heard about recently because my daughter’s boyfriend lives very close to it. Today I fished Cross Fork and the Kettle, doing better on the former of these streams. Also tying up a few nightfishing flies. Keep me posted on your progress with the same.

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