owltalk 2000


20 April, 2000

At 03:30 this morning, while most were redeeming backstage passes to Dream World, I slowed my truck to a stop. I had already made the decision that, after 7 weeks and more than 900, 3-minute stops, this would be my last. Surveys were over. In 3-minutes, my vertebrae and senses would be released from the bondage that was 6 weeks of rigid attention. Here, above the Brule River, I would say good-bye to winter.


I left the truck in what would be my last snapshot of the spring. l stood motionless, shifting my energies towards perception, rather than emotion. I exhaled deeply and started my watch. Gentle wisps of a breeze, stirred by the perpetual current of the river, brushed against my cheeks. My ears felt, then heard the song of a male boreal owl. He sang to the east, beyond the tabletop of spruce; below me as the road rises along a contour of engineering convenience.  With his song, my springtime would come to an end.


By the time you read this, I will be in embroiled in a 1700-mile drive whose final mile can never come soon enough. I will throw loose change into baskets on the Illinois Tollway and pay an hour's worth of wages to automatons in New York and Massachusetts, and then slowly, the sun will settle on my left and I will be pointed towards the north, again. When my truck stops, I will revert to a diurnal schedule as a response and not a choice. My son will awaken at 07:00 and my wife will tell me, that after two months, it is my turn to attend to him. She is right and I will do so willingly.


I will think often about this portion of the earth over the next 9 months. I will wonder about the owls and the voles, and all of the tangible and intangible resources that contribute to a productive, or nonproductive spring. In the fall, I will sit in a lawn chair in my back yard in Maine and revel in the night, pulling saw-whets from a nearly-invisible array of mist nets, in an area I never thought I would call home. Life will become predictable, and I look forward to that.


When I came to Minnesota this spring, I paid for my journey with naiveté; a blank check written by the hand of optimism. Then, I believed that "all things would work out." I filled my gas tank 15 times and when I got here, filled my cupboards with carbohydrates. Then, I spoke with Rich and said, "yes, come on out," because I couldn't then, and never will, envision pettiness as the magic bullet that strikes down commitment and science. Yet, it nearly did.


As my field season comes to an end, I am extremely grateful to the U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest, for their help this year. Differ with some of their directions if you will, but they are the only agency in Minnesota with dirt beneath their fingernails. Thank you Wayne Russ, Ed Lindquist, and Jackie Andrew. Rich Jordan was an asset. He was curious and dedicated, and heard all that I did when we were together, and more when we were apart. Not many people in Maine can say they saw a pack of wolves and a great gray owl within 10 minutes of one another. I will hire him in an instant and will recommend him to anyone.


After 14 years, each morning I make the deliberate drive on gravel roads towards sleep, I wish the faint, then discernible light above the eastern horizon would stop. I want to watch one more silent flight of the great gray, and one more timid approach to the cavity by a female saw-whet. I want to listen to the last breathless song of the male boreal owl. Daylight interferes with that. It renders the night inconsequential.


While you sleep, life is vibrant. I have shared that this spring. Nighttime in northern Minnesota is a tactile experience. My index finger has rested lightly atop the wrist of the boreal forest, and I have felt its pulse. I am a lucky man.


Copyright © W.H. Lane