My neck hurts from looking up. I have been owl-gazing and owls rarely perch on bottom branches.
When you read this, the family of long-eared owls that has enlivened our backyard and thoroughly captivated me will no doubt have moved on. My head will sit properly between my shoulders again, facing forward. For now I accept this pain as a small price for a rare privilege – there are only fifty thousand members of this species in the world.
For several years the owls have nested in an old crow or magpie stick nest high in a line of spruce trees. This year they’ve hatched five adorable owlets. Last evening at dusk I held my breath in delight during their daily flying lesson. Swooping back and forth on rigid wings, soon to reach their full span of almost a metre, they wove in and out of each others’ flight paths, using the low-hanging tree branches as an obstacle course.
We notice the owls most often in the early evening. Perched high above us, their riveting orange-ish eyes stare down as we eat on the patio, mow lawn or pick raspberries. They’ve grown accustomed to the sight and sound of us, to my upturned face and the regular click of my big camera. Sometimes they shut their eyes to snatch extra rest before rousing and departing for their evening hunt in larger fields than ours.
We’ve grown accustomed (but never bored) by them too. We’ve learned to recognize, even mimic, the calls of both the adults and the owlets; the proverbial two hoots from the adults, the rusty hinge call of the chicks, and a high-pitched vibrato I’ve yet to master.
I stood at the bottom of the owl tree (pick of the evening – they vary) last night, giving my two hoots. Five pairs of wide round eyes stared down at me, curious but wary. Neither parent seemed near. But when I finished my call, a mature owl responded from a few trees over. Instantly, the youngsters came to attention, heads swiveling up to 180 degrees, eyes scanning both sky and trees.
My owl call sounds good to me. But my two hoots meant nothing to those chicks. Since hatching, they’ve developed an intimate familiarity with the voice of their parents. Those calls have the added value of authenticity and truth.
If I could interpret owl-ese into English, I’d have heard what those owlets heard. “Pay no attention, kids, no matter how much like me that voice sounds. Even when I seem absent, I’m closer than you know. You can’t see me, but I’m still here. Trust.”
Followers of Christ can know and recognize the voice of our Heavenly parent with equal intuitiveness. As we acknowledge our absolute inability to thrive without him, as we relate to him in prayer and immerse ourselves in the truth of the Bible, we grow in wisdom and discernment.
A little like those young owls.