Thursday, March 1, 2007

Owl Spotting

Yesterday, late in the day, we went tromping out in the woods next to my parent's house. We were studying some fungus on a fallen log when our exuberant noises startled a very large bird. "Must be a hawk," my dad said.

Something about the bird's flight didn't seem very hawklike to me, so I started looking up at the bare-limbed trees to see if I could spot where it had landed. To my amazement, I saw an enormous Great Horned Owl, gazing placidly down at us from its high perch with what seemed like a mix of irritation and bemusement.

I couldn't believe our good fortune. I've only ever spotted owls in the forest twice before in my lifetime. But as I excitedly held up each of my twins and helped them locate the majestic creature in the treetops, they seemed interested and pleased, but not really all that impressed.

Indeed, the more I tried to explain to them how extraordinary it was to see an owl in the wild, the more my kids seemed to tune me out, in a two-going-on-twelve kind of way.

I was a little disappointed by their reaction, but I realized later why they would take an owl sighting seemingly for granted.

They are, after all, at an age where their mental universe is to a significant degree a world of storybooks. They reference real people and their own lived experience in their play, of course, but not to nearly the same extent as the characters and events they've learned about from books.

The world they know teems with wild animals. Owls? You can readily encounter one squeezing into a snow-white mitten with a host of other creatures, or playing games with a firefly, or offering sage advice from his perch in the Hundred Acre Wood. When I exclaimed to them about the impressive size of the owl we saw yesterday, they countered by saying it was in fact Bill, the smallest and most babylike of Martin Waddell's Owl Babies.

Here I was trying to point out a bit of magic in the everyday to them, and they -- without quite realizing they were doing it -- ended up reminding me how wondrous the world of their imagination is.

Fair enough. Let them be blase, protected as they are for now from the sobering realities of a world whose wildlife has been decimated: It was still very cool to see that owl.

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