The Owling Moon
I looked out the window the other night at the full
moon. The weather forecaster says that
this is the “snow moon” because we are headed into the time of winter known for
significant snowfalls. But I like to
refer to the February full moon as the “Owling Moon”, because this is also the
beginning of the mating season for owls and one of the best times to call an
owl and not only get a response, but even the possibility that the owl will fly
in close. As I gaze out my window, snug
and warm, I recall a February night like this thirty years ago or so when my
youngest son Ben and I went owling in the full moonlit night.
The world, when moonlit in winter, is quite
wonderful. During the daylight the sky
seems distant. One must look up to see the
cyan blueness of the sky; that blueness melts away into transparency as your
gaze descends to ground level. But at
night, the inky deep blueness of the sky envelops the entire world, and reaches
all the way to touch the snow. The one
who walks in the winter woods at nighttime then, walks in the very sky itself,
even with feet firmly held to earth.
On the night of our owling adventure the moonlight was
bright enough to see where we were going, so I kept my flashlight turned off
and in my coat pocket. Even the shadows
of the trees that stretched across the snow mirrored the inky blueness of the
sky. “Try not to talk”, I cautioned Ben;
“Just listen and look.” Ben nodded his
We slipped through the woods fairly quietly because
the snow was deep and powdery, until we came to a little clearing in the woods,
maybe only thirty yards across. This was
the place I had in mind. To the north
there was a large white pine, its needles caught the bright silver of the moonlight. We stood there for a few minutes in the quiet
and the dark. The sacredness of the
place and the moment was palpable.
Then, I cupped my hands like a megaphone, brought them
up to my mouth, and called out as loud as I could sounding as much like a
barred owl as possible. The barred owl
call is fairly simple and sounds like “Who cooks for you”? It starts clear, but then gets a bit raspy. I called once, then quickly again. Then before a third call there was an answer
back. I hesitated and we both turned in
the direction of the response.
One of the unique traits of owls that makes them such
proficient hunters is that their wing feathers are quite soft whereas most
birds have very stiff flight quills.
That’s why we never heard the owl fly in. But I heard it land in the big pine
tree. I reached for the flashlight in my
pocket and snapped it on. The beam found
the barred owl perched on a branch about fifteen feet up. Owls are incapable of expression so I don’t
know if it was feeling confused, or disappointed, or foolish, but it blinked once,
spread his wings and flew off back into the night. We stood there for a moment looking off in
the direction of his flight – a counted blessing.