owltalk 2001


29 April, 2001


The sun rose like a pair of cheap, pumpkin colored boxer shorts over the placid waters of Lake Superior as the cherubic biologist made his journey down the long and winding gravel road. His field season would end with these cathartic miles of dust, and he grew melancholy, knowing that months would pass before his feet again strode atop the acidic soils of the boreal forest.


Life had taken many turns over the years for this wildlife maven, yet through it all, he remained dedicated to his cause, like misguided conservative Republicans are to theirs. He had exhibited compassion and altruism during his brief stint on the planet; always willing to help, always ready to pitch in. When the call came from Hollywood- he was there-serving as a body double for Brad Pitt in the movie Thelma and Louise. When he sensed that his cerebral presence in academia was detrimental to fellow students, he lowered the curve in all of his classes. When the call came from across the "big pond", he resolutely boarded the private jet to help Steven Hawking set up his Star Trek screen saver. For the good of man, was his motto. He lived it. He breathed it.


But then in 1987, he entered another world. It was dark, like his days at the Boy Scout camp, where the term "portage" took on a completely different meaning. And it was quiet, like the Sunday mornings of his youth, parked in front of the church knowing that he could go in, but why do what everyone else is doing? Instead, he sought his own path. Another world to him became the night. Another world became the silence of late winter. Another world had as its aria the haunting song of the boreal owl.


He was like a fish out of water at first, afraid of the dark, unwilling to venture beyond the safety zone of his truck. But gradually he sprouted fins (actually snowshoes) that took him to the furthest reaches of the forest. He walked and skied, rode a bicycle, and drove the back roads like a Pavlovian dog looking for its reward. He listened for sounds in the night, like during high school when he had a girl in his room and his parents were gone-but due back soon.


By the end of his 2001 field season, he had surveyed nearly 5,000 miles of those sometimes snow covered, sometimes arid roads, often barefoot. He drank coffee like a sot, and passed gas like a '68' Corvair running on three cylinders. He entered the night with his belly full and his belly empty. He had endured sickness and health, and the shady area between the two. He walked stridently with clothing worthy of a Level 3 Haz-Mat disposal unit.  He had brushed, but not flossed his teeth regularly. He was a vagabond, a lithesome mover in the night.


He had seen much during his North Woods adventures. There were the nights when the mother ships appeared and his heart rate soared, like during high school when he had a girl in his room and his parents were home. There was the day he rescued a dog from the perils of abandonment in the wilderness, and the tears shed when its owners drove immediately from Chicago to reunite with their "Captain". There was serendipitous discovery and perpetual consternation.  He had aged, but in so doing, felt his heartbeat slow to the pace of the winter's night.


And now, with dusty plumes rising behind his vehicle he slowed, then stopped. He got out and looked to the north, illuminated in the pale glow of a new day, with only the brightest stars and planets lingering in the retiring night sky. He raised his arms in a ritualistic good-bye to the land,  water, and the heavens, and paused with a deep breath, knowing that his soul was leaving its home behind.