January 23rd, 2007

new year


My third sighting of the great snowy owl. Stepped out the back door for my walk this morning and heard the screech, (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/audio/Snowy_Owl.html) so I looked. It was soaring down our back alley toward the coffee shop, through the treetops.

This was pretty exciting. I immediately went around the block to the coffee shop (snow is kind of deep in the backyard) and told them about it. Since the first time I saw it over along the creek, I saw it again just a few days later as I was walking along the bay on South Shore. Again heard it before I saw it, and pointed it out to a man standing on his front steps there who had thought it was some kind of big hawk. After that I had noticed possible dropped prey on the path over near Olin Park, two or three times. Twice it was mice quite radically rearranged as to their insides, and how do they get in the middle of the path like that unless dropped from the sky? and then a small bird, on the sidewalk along Lakeside, which might have just slammed itself into a wall or window the way they do... or maybe not.

But then a couple weeks went by and we were wondering if it was still around. What brings it to the city? most likely habitat pressure up north, no available digs for the owl about town, so he or she moves south. Mr S was speculating whether it could pick up something as large as a muskrat, of which we have great plenty. Lots of good pickin on those mushrats.The cat had better watch out, she's hardly that big herself even with her fur puffed out. And we have generations of mice living out in the magical compost pile, which has not needed turning in ten years, civilizations rise and fall in there. This owl is not much smaller than an eagle, half again as large as a red-tailed hawk.

So I was walking around today, looking at the neighborhood sort of from the top. Our back alley is along a kind of wooded ridge, mostly walnut with some oak and chinese elm, between Olin-Turville Woods and the Arboretum. The tallest single trees around here otherwise are soft maples and cottonwoods. But the building cranes at St Marys dwarf those. When I got around by the Arboretum end of Spruce Street, the sparrows were raising a ruckus in one of the cedar trees they gather in. If I could have understood them, I might have found out if someone big and white and scary had been by.

Being a symbol-making human bean, I naturally speculate on what further significance I can glean from this sighting. The owl is associated with the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and white is always a portentious color. A wise old owl lived in an oak, the more he saw the less he spoke, the less he spoke the more he heard, why can't we all be like that wise old bird? "Wol" of course is how the Owl in Winnie-ther-Pooh's Hundred-Acre Wood spells his name, on the sign on his house. Our snowy owl here is comparatively talkative, and not just sitting, but hunting.

Or at least googling.