Owlice in Wonderland

Owlice waking up briefly from an all-day nap

I’m not particularly superstitious, except perhaps when it comes to New Year’s Eve. I’ve always half believed that whatever you’re doing at the stroke of midnight sets the tone for the coming year. That’s a fairly big burden to place on a few innocent seconds, and it’s–well–ridiculous. Nevertheless, my husband and I always ensure the arriving new year catches us in the midst of exchanging a kiss. In my mind, it’s like the famous photo of the nurse and the sailor in Times Square on VJ Day. In reality, it’s a whole lot less dramatic and I’m in my scruffy purple robe wondering if dressing better for “the moment” might have upped the tone of things for the coming twelve months.

Aside from that, I don’t think I have any other superstitions, unless you count Owlice. Owlice is a beautiful Barred Owl and she spends a lot of time, often the entire day, perched in one of the evergreens out in front of our house. My writing office has a window that lets me look right out at her favored spot. How do I know she’s a she? I don’t. In fact, determining the sex of owls can be so hard, experts often can’t tell and have to rely on DNA testing. I just made an executive decision: she’s a girl.

I first knew Owlice was out there because I used to hear her haunting 8- or 9-note call–Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you two?– echoing around the woods out back. With the help of Cornell’s great website, I identified her as a Barred Owl. I heard her almost every day for many months, but never saw her. And then, just when I sat down to begin writing Children of the Salt Road, she showed up, She was there almost every day, month after month, from start to finish. She always seemed to show up on days when the going got sticky. I watched her with binoculars. I took quite a few pictures. Maybe her brooding presence accounts for some of the turns the story took. I don’t know. As birds go, she’s certainly atmospheric.

Uncannily enough, when I finished my second draft and sent it on its way, she disappeared for a while. Now, as I am working on a new book, she’s back, and I’m really happy about that. More than I should be and not just because I like birds. Superstitious? Not quite. I don’t get upset when she’s not there. Not yet. But I am getting an inkling of how that could happen.

Owlice found a mate last summer. I used to hear them calling back and forth to each other late at night, and not long after, I noticed a new sound in the woods which I was able to identify as young owlets demanding to be fed. I’m keeping an eye out for those youngsters. It has been a great privilege to have one owl looking out for me. I can only imagine being watched over by a family of these wide-eyed beauties.

When Owlice opens her eyes, it’s as if she’s checking up on me, even though I know she’s probably just feeling peckish and waking up to scan for a possible snack. Even though I know that snack might be one of the many other birds I feed and love. I’ll keep looking for her anyway and experiencing that small spark of joy when I do see her there. I was thinking it might be nice to build a nesting box for her this year. I do draw the line, though, at trying to kiss her at midnight.

  • Listen to and watch a beautiful Barred Owl here. Warning: This is a potential gateway video leading to more and more irresistable owl videos. Please view responsibly.
  • More about the barred owl and some great pictures here.

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