Tag Archives: baby birds

HAMMOCK

IMG_8743My foot rock, rock, rocking
Mimics the lift and drop of waves.
Breeze in the walnut leaves
Sounds like the hiss of surf,
And a car passing on the road—
Wind in the rigging.
Where is the keening of gulls
Tumbling through the salt air?
Replaced by a cricket in the stone wall
And a bullfrog over the road in the pond.

Sudden screech of blue jays
Sounds a false note,
Arresting my downward spiral.
A drama fit for a king plays out.
Ten seconds and the act is done.
Attack, plunder, infanticide,
Feathers.
Distraught phoebe’s screech
At the sight of their nest
Dislodged from the eaves.

My head sinks back down,
Eyelids grow heavy again.
Dip, dip, dip.
Consciousness hovers like the yellow
Swallowtail over the dame’s rocket.
Swing gently into sleep.

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BARRED OWLS: FLYING LESSONS

Barred Owl in Basking Ridge, NJ. Photo courtesy of Matt Zeitler, orangebirding.com

Barred Owl in Basking Ridge, NJ. Photo courtesy of Matt Zeitler, orangebirding.com

One early summer afternoon, I stepped out onto the deck to bring in a load of laundry. A movement in the dappled shade of the trees, not twenty feet away, caught my eye. I recognized the dark eyes and striped brown and beige plumage of a barred owl. I stood transfixed, hardly daring to breathe.

The owl called softly and, from a nearby branch, a smaller owl took off. The young owl made a short, swooping flight and landed somewhat clumsily by the adult. The birds seemed aware of my presence, but undeterred by it. For fifteen minutes, I stood and watched the owl parent teach its four owlets to fly, afraid of missing a moment by running inside for my camera.

I had often been woken in the night by the owls calling to each other in the woodland surrounding our house—the distinctive, throaty Who-cooks-for-you, who cooks for you-all? But this was the first time I’d seen one. The barred owl, sometimes called a hoot owl, striped, or wood owl, is primarily crepuscular—active at twilight. However, as I later read, daytime activity is not unusual when they’re raising chicks. Owls nest in tree cavities. The female lays between two and four eggs in April, and then sits for four weeks waiting for them to hatch. Once hatched, it takes another four or five weeks before they young are fledged. I could see that this owl had a lot of time and energy invested in her brood.

I’ve long had a fascination with owls. As a child, camping near the ancient ruins of a haunted Irish abbey, the protracted screech of a barn owl left me frozen with fear in my sleeping bag. Surely the sound was the ghost cry of the monks being murdered by the invading Vikings.

In the imagination, owls are mysterious creatures of darkness. If you’ve ever seen those pale wings swoop in front of your car headlights late at night, and those marble-round eyes staring at you, you know what I mean.

Maybe because of their nocturnal habits and all-knowing faces, tales of owls are deeply rooted in folklore and mythology. To this day, all over the world, they play a dual and often contradictory role—the harbingers of death and misfortune, but also the sign of wisdom and good luck. In Greek mythology, Athene, the Goddess of Wisdom, took the Little Owl as her symbol. In Aesop’s fables, the owl is a shrewd operator with the power to foretell the future. Owls appeared on early Greek coins and were seen as good omens, especially during times of war, and thus were protected.

When I was seven I lived on the Greek island of Corfu with my family. My sisters and I had a small scops owl as a bedroom companion. My father, a documentary filmmaker, who had hand-reared many sick and injured creatures, was recording its habits. Sadly, one day we returned to find its charred body lying in the back alley. It had fallen victim to superstitions that had superseded its protected status.

In Roman times, the owl represented the dark underworld. Witches could turn themselves into owls and suck the blood of infants. The hoot of an owl meant impending death. These beliefs spread with the Romans. In English folklore, a dead owl nailed to a barn door could ward off evil. And folk remedies made from burnt owl and owl eggs could cure everything from alcoholism to Whopping cough.

In Native American traditions, owls are also honored and reviled. To the Pawnee, the owl is the Chief of the Night, and as such, a protector. The Cherokee respect and covet its ability to see at night, but fear its call as an omen of death. Some tribes believe that owl feathers ward off evil and bring healing. Oglala Sioux warriors wear owl feathers to enhance bravery and vision. Yakama tribes of Washington State see the owl as a powerful totem to be consulted on how natural resources and forests should be used.

As I discovered, barred owls have adapted to life in proximity to humans. They don’t seem to mind suburban areas, and even thrive on the abundance of rodents to prey on. I thought my front row seat for the owl flying lessons was a unique show. Little did I know that I’d get a matinee performance the next afternoon, and the next, until those owlets were fully fledged.

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Letting Go

You’re a write eejit when you treat your manuscript like your baby.
I’m not the overly sentimental type—or at least I do a good job of hiding it. I wasn’t the one blubbing like a baby at “Mary Poppins” (not looking at anyone in particular, man-mate!) But I confess, when I put my youngest on the bus to kindergarten for the first time, I did feel that mother-child bond stretch out like an over-zealous rubber band, and it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. That wee one that had been clamped to my hip and shin for five years, had just blown me a kiss from the other side of the road and hopped merrily on the bus without a backward glance.

Okay, okay, I hear you groan—not another Mommy blog. Well, yes, but just this once, and only to make my point. (I’m not above exploiting my kids.)
So it’s with trepidation that I prepare to send premier child off to college. What if I didn’t get it right? What if I read all the wrong child-rearing books? (Actually, I don’t think I read any.) But what if I didn’t feed her enough kale or Vitamin D. Maybe I shouldn’t have had her vaccinated, and maybe all those fluoride treatments were a mistake. I didn’t teach her to ride a bike. I didn’t talk enough about sex, or maybe I said too much. I showed, but didn’t tell. Maybe I suffocated her character—didn’t let it evolve naturally. Should I have insisted she not swear so much?

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And then I pull myself up short, because I’m being as neurotic about my parenting of my daughter as I am of my books. Can you parent a book? I hear you ask. Yes, most definitely, yes!
You have sleepless nights while it’s in the newborn phase—lying awake for hours wondering if you’re doing it right. You can’t imagine how your baby can ever grow up and demand less of your attention. And then slowly you hit your stride. Sometime you’re cruising along taking every corner like a pro. Other times you’re flailing around like a one-legged roller skater. Sometimes you get to the stage where you just want to throw up your hands and yell, “I quit!” But you can’t. You’re in it for the long haul. And then there are those few and far between days when every, just every little thing, is bloody brilliant.
And as with parenting a child, there comes a time when you have to push that offspring out of the nest. No more editing, looking for stray commas, dangling modifiers. You’ve given it a good talking to and told it to do its best, and never go home with a guy who’s weirder than its brother, and . . . It’s all about giving it wings and letting it fly.

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Photo by Peter Barron