I think December tends to make everyone a bit nostalgic. Minimal daylight and dropping temperatures make an excellent environment for slowing down and sharing stories of how things “used to be.” For some that can mean a time a loved one was still alive, or a time before student loans, or simply last August when your face didn’t freeze when you went out the front door.
This week had me feeling extra nostalgic, I sifted through digital vestiges of my youth, and I came across an email from my father written only a couple of summers ago. It was 2012 and my parent’s old farm had unknowingly made the perfect nesting spot for some owls. These owls were not like any that had taken up residence before though. They were tiny, territorial, and called out with a combination squawk/bark that my mother swears sounded like someone yelling “WHAT!” at her as she crossed the driveway at dusk. The unidentified squawkers are referred to as “What-Whats” by my family to this day.
As the owls made themselves more at home that summer, they became a very animated aspect to our dooryard. They would swoop down and chase the cats away from their nest, too small to actually eat our cats but big enough to scare the bejesus out of them still. If you walked near their nesting tree an adult would swoop out and “what-what” its way towards the barn hoping to lead you, and whatever danger you may bring, away from their precious young, as good parents often do.
Just like I did years before, the baby owls left sometime in September. We all knew it would happen but it didn’t mean they weren’t terribly missed after they were gone (maybe the cats didn’t miss them very much actually.) I think farm life lends itself to a heightened awareness of life cycles. We are constantly celebrating new life, encouraging growth, and always bracing to say an inevitable goodbye.
My father wrote this email after Paul Cyr came and photographed the owls and we finally got them identified. We discovered they were Long-eared Owls and rare to Northern Maine. We had the first recorded breeding of such birds in Aroostook County. We always thought of our “What-Whats” as special to us, but turns out they were special to others as well. Here is my father’s email to me full of pride for his feathered friends and of course, some good parenting:
When I was much younger, I was taught by my parents to appreciate the lessons of the farm we live on. When there is a beautiful night with a full moon you take a walk and look up at the sky and give your thanks for one more beautiful day on this earth.
One quiet evening while I strolled through the farm, I heard a strange little bark from the old box elder in the front yard. More careful listening revealed two baby owls chirping in the cherry orchard. Apparently, they had been living all summer in our yard without anyone noticing. We had the first recorded sighting of a long eared owl in northern Maine come to find out. My mother and all of her ardent bird watching friends would have been so proud.
Last night it was quiet too, but the little owls have grown and left the yard. I looked for the stars, the planes, and the satellites overhead like my father had taught me. Those were his favorite things to look at and I think it helped him get through the trials that kept the farm going for another year and eventually another generation.
Of course there are lessons I have to learn on my own because parents can’t teach you everything. Sure enough last night as I followed the flashing red lights of a jet passing directly overhead l learned an important new one. Remember to take time and be thankful. And if you are so moved to sigh at the wonders of the night sky, just be sure to take the lit corn cob pipe out of your mouth before you do it.
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