20 March 2000
I haven't even started surveys and already my neck aches. It is an unavoidable consequence of being an observer of the night. You stand (or sit), locked into the position of looking upward, atop a body that is tense with concentration. The neck goes first and the back soon follows. Ten years ago, it wasn't that big of a thing. Now, it assaults my functionality. The days of a lithesome body are gone. By the end of April, I will again be walking like Fred G. Sanford - Junkman.
Despite the aches and pains, the time for surveys has arrived; those sometimes loathsome, sometimes monotonous stops at 1/2 mile intervals spent listening for Mr. Goodbar. For the first time in several years, however, I am eager for them to begin. I never thought I would say that. I will soon have 11 years of survey data in an area that is generally noted more for Mad River canoes and Coleman lanterns then it is for its owls. Surveys mean that once again I am a participant in nocturnal discovery.
Last night, I was ready for the routine. The weather forecast indicated warm temperatures and light winds - all under a moon as bright as a Q-Beam. The temperatures were warm, and moonlight illuminated the landscape. Light winds, however, must have meant the 10-20 mph gusts that greeted me at the start of my Sawbill Route. I chose the wrong profession. Were I a meteorologist, I could be wrong 50% of the time and still collect a paycheck.
So I sat, waiting for the sound of the Temperance River to supplant the sound of winds slicing through the red pines. Mir went over, but it was one minute late….those darned Russians. Several cars drove up to the overlook and then spun around, as though their tether to civilization had reached its limits.
Normally, I wait for an hour before canceling survey efforts. Ninety-five percent of the time, the wait is futile. But during the remaining 5%, conditions improve as though a switch has been turned: calm where no calm could be found an hour earlier; clear skies where clouds had once removed the horizons. After an hour-and-a-half, an approaching bank of clouds removed the last glimmer of hope for what was to be a 10 hour stint in the woods. The rule rather than the exception, had won out.
If there is any virtue that I have honed over the past 14 years, it is patience. I often make the analogy that owling is like ice fishing. You sit and wait. You ponder and reflect. You get cold, yet you still go through the motions; bobber fishing in the night. With 400 miles of surveys and surprises looming over me, even patience was rendered inconsequential. I had waited, but the weather had its own agenda and I headed to the Shore. For one night, though, my body agreed with the decision.
Copyright © W.H. Lane