Welcome back to Magnetic North, now into our second official week of spring (according to the calendar anyway). Yet, weather watchers tell us to expect even more snow, wind, sleet and...whatever.
But are we bitter? Heck no. We who resist the urge to spend serious time away from the North Country in winter, celebrate the victories of April, however small and twisted. For instance:
*Catching sight of the long hidden dear earth on our driveways and roads, even as it morphs into tire sucking mud. Hey, mud pies y’all!
*Or offering comfort to returning snowbirds as they wander through the grocery store and Joynes muttering, “we thought IT would be over by now.”
*Or, shamelessly glorying over being one of the smarty pants who still has a stash or of sand and salt on hand.
It would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of victory, having thus far stayed the course with nary a broken pinky finger. For the fact is, it IS darkest AND more dangerous before the dawn.
Last week I bore witness to that. For the last two winters I have played hostess to a Great Gray Owl. It was a rare day when I could not find him atop a 60-foot spruce by the drive, or clinging to a poplar bough either by the goat corral or pond. So constant a presence was he in the meadow, I began referring to him as MY owl, knowing full well that he belonged to no one, least of all me.
As we have all heard, this winter killed many birds, and yet, my Great Gray thrived, not in spite of the weather, but because of it. Those fierce winds of early winter swept the meadow nearly clean of snow, making it possible for him hear his next hot meal skittering about only inches beneath the soft surface. Swooping down, talons outstretched, balancing on his wing tips as he seized his prize, the owl seldom got skunked. And I was vastly entertained by the handsome fellow’s strength and prowess.
He usually ate the vole or mouse right there on the ground. Then he basked in the sun awhile, and then gave his feathers a good shaking. At the end of this ritual, he often shot a stern look towards my house where Jethro, my big black retriever, barked and howled in outrage at what he perhaps thought was a flying dog.
Then, about a month ago, there was that brief warm spell and rain. Not a big rain, but just enough to harden the surface of the snow into a crust through which sound would be muffled at best.
Now, I don’t know if the owl succumbed because he couldn’t hear his prey through the hardened snow. I can’t believe that he could not break through it. But one day, as Jethro set up a haroo at the window on the meadow, I saw the owl sitting beneath one of his favorite poplars, assuming an odd, motionless posture. Head bent, but not eating. Like he was studying something on the ground..
Somewhat alarmed, I banged on the window glass. And the bird raised his great round head, his amber eyes ringed with gray and white stripes like the planet Jupiter. He looked my way, then turned his whole body in profile then just sat there as if to say, “Would you mind with the banging and barking?”
And so, drawing the curtains, I distracted the dog away with a bone and went downstairs to unload the clothes dryer. No more than a half an hour later I went upstairs to see if my owl had gotten a meal.
What I saw looked at first looked like little gray mice or voles running across the snow near where the owl had been sitting. Then I saw the two huge ravens on the ground and the storm of owl feathers that blew out around them. The predator had become the prey. They must have been watching him as his strength ran out, which it must have while I wasn’t looking. I have heard loved ones will do something like that as death approaches, waiting until those closest leave the room or go to sleep, and only then to slip away. So it makes sense, at least to me, if he was truly MY owl, then I must have been HIS human,
“Mine. Not mine,” I kept telling myself that night, between tears and a call to a close friend who gets my attachments to critters. Long ago I found comfort in reminding myself that what I call mine can easily become not mine: My dogs, my house, heck...my body, or at least parts of it. It’s all apparently on loan.
The very next day, more snow and more wind brought gratitude that MY owl had not had to starve any longer than he did. And it brought more.
Out in the rabbit room, where my five angora bunnies cohabit with four bantam chickens, an unmistakable “cheep, cheep, cheep,” greeted me as I distributed the bunny bits and chicken scratch.
I looked accusingly at the one bantam rooster, a black Frizzle, Colin by name. Colin looks like his feathers are blown backwards. He oozed pride.
Over in a corner, behind a boat cushion and empty rabbit crate, a lovely little Buff Orpington hen sat with a teeny black beak protruding out from beneath one caramel colored wing.
After a few muttered curses mixed with cries of delight, I crafted a makeshift brooder out of a plastic tarp held down by two old silver teapots so as to conserve heat. Inside I put a heat lamp, small chick waterer and a pile of well pulverized feed. I must have done a fine job of it, because there are now three banty chicks and all are doing well.
So far, I haven’t so much as picked one of the little buggers up, though. Still stung by loss, I care for them. But love them? Not yet.
Chances are just about 100% that someday I will, though.
Just as someday it will stay above freezing. And someday butterflies and mosquitos and dragonflies will replace snowflakes in the air. And often, in the midst of all those somedays to come, tourists will rave about this every so gorgeous and ever so cool place we live and ask, brows furrowed “ but whatever do you do up here in winter?”
And I don’t know about you, but I am always tempted to reply, “You want the truth?” And of course they’ll say “why not?” Then, doing my best to sound like Jack Nicolson in A Few Good Men, I’ll grin at them and say, “Because I don’t think you can handle the truth! Heh, heh, heh, heh.”