The Owls Are Still Around

004There is something about an owl’s call that makes one stop and take stock. I am walking along, debating over how to tackle a problem at the office or ruminating on the blister forming at my heel, and the soft stuttering vocals – hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo – make me forget everything. My breath catches and I stand still, hoping to hear the sound again.

I am disappointed.

Shiva tugs at my side, shakes off the snow, and whines to keep moving. With much better ears than mine, I know she heard the owl, but it is a sound she deems unimportant. White noise. It signals neither food nor threat and she is anxious to reach the curved stick metres away on the path ahead. I am reluctant to move forward, scared my boots in the snow and Shiva’s jingling tags will startle the bird. But at last I give in and Shiva leaps forward in relief. As she pounces on the broken branch I hear the call again.

hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo

I stop again. My eyes search the trees to my left. I know the chances of me catching sight of the owl are limited. I have to try. Shiva chomps on her stick and tosses her head, the terrier-shake that always makes me grin. Giving up, I move forward once more.

hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo

The last time I heard a hoot like this was in Nova Scotia, fairly close to one year ago. Last winter, Shiva and I spent many early mornings walking on the off-leash trail near our home. Being February, we were almost always alone. Except for the wildlife.

Being susceptible to dense imaginings, I often frightened myself by wondering what creatures may have been watching us from behind the trees. The only light in the park was the moon bouncing off the snow. Though a major road lay only a kilometre away, in the forest the soundtrack of our strolls consisted of Shiva’s short pants and my crunching shoes. And, on special occasions, the call of an owl.

hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo

It made for a spooky experience, I can’t deny. The cry of an owl is not a comfort. At least, not back then. It served as a caution. When I heard the owl, the hair on the back of my neck did more than stand up, it danced, bounding on my nerves until I decided to recall Shiva and make my way home to safety.

Tonight, as I stand in the northern Alberta cold, cheeks burning from the acid wind, the experience is much different. As I gaze into the dark branches, straining to catch a flicker of a feather, I am reassured.

I may be far from that other place I used to call home. We may be walking at night on a busy trail with less quiet and sharper chill, but the owls are still around.

hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo

As our walk is close to an end – I can see the too-bright lights of houses up the hill – I give in to Shiva’s nagging and carry on. My feet leave the crunchy white path and slide on to pavement. The owl calls again. I keep walking but I have to look back. Maybe this time I will see.

hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo

Only darkness meets my scrutiny. I smile. Perhaps it is better not to see. We trudge up the icy road and my movements are careful so as not to slip. If the owl speaks again I am now too far to hear. But I decide to picture him leaving as we did, going on to harmonize someone else’s winter trek.

3 thoughts on “The Owls Are Still Around

  1. Oh how cool! I’ve actually seen an owl a few times in my neighborhood – once perching on the telephone pole next to my house! Blueberry barked at it but it didn’t even care. I love seeing them. I remember the first time years ago I was walking my then dog, Shadow, in the early morning darkness in the neighborhood. It was so quiet and I about pooped myself when I heard the owl’s hoot. I looked up and there it was – looking down at me! I thought for a moment I just be dreaming or was hallucinating from being over-tired and having to get up so early. But it was real. There’s something really special about an owl – as often as I have seen them, it never gets old!

    Maybe one of these days you will get to actually see your owl!

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