owltalk 2002


4 March 2002


I awoke this morning on the North Shore. My 1600 mile journey was over. I had experienced the unlimited visibility of the Canadian sky, and the 5 foot visibility of a Michigan blizzard. 26 hours of drudgery and dandruff, although my hair stylist says it is actually "dry scalp". I drove for Minnesota. I drove for its owls.


When I stirred from my bed (actually a mattress on the floor), I went to the window next to the fireplace (actually a fireplace). I expected to see a boreal owl there, just as one had appeared last year. I thought that it would be a sign of my owl karma. We would bond for several weeks, he would grow fat on a smorgasbord of mice, and then he would be gone. But the spruce bough was empty.


I have followed the weather of northern Minnesota for most of the winter. As much as I love the snow and cold, I know that my access to owls is hindered when the snows are deep. I also know that when the spring thaw comes, heavy snow means the impenetrable background noise of torrents of water moving towards Lake Superior or Hudson Bay.


There is little snow on the North Shore this year. It has the feel of 2000, when the landscape was brown and lifeless. The South Shore is another matter. You want snow? Go to the U.P. You want cold? Come to Tofte. Neither access to the woods nor the deafening sounds of flowing rivers will pose a problem this year.


As I sit perched on the start of another field season, I wonder how it will transpire. Last year, I watched, even filmed a pair of boreals copulate on a branch no more than 20 feet above me. I trapped two males with my bare hands. I listened as the quiet of March turned into the noisy nights of April. It was a good year to be an owl voyeur.


Tonight, I will begin my search for the subtle clues harbored in the darkness. I will listen for sounds and look for sights that fire the synapses of recognition and familiarity. That is why I drove 1600 miles. And each afternoon that I awaken, I will look out the window next to the fireplace and wait for the owl to appear.


W.H. Lane