Self-portrait waiting for the owls, February 2, 2019

Self-portrait waiting for the owls, February 2, 2019

“Can you close that window? I’m cold,” he says as he reads his book.

He is jacketless and eating frozen fruit directly from the plastic bag it came in. The truck’s thermometer reads 28 degrees.

I roll up the window and watch the grasslands and ag fields for owls. We park along the road at sunset and wait. My son is impatient and likely hungry for dinner. Dinner for boys is the same time as a short eared owl’s flight. He can wait, I think, frozen fruit and almonds would be enough, and snow could ease his thirst if he had the need.

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The sunset is bright pink, lined bright by jet contrails and lined dark with the silhouettes of hundreds, maybe thousands of geese.

“There,” I say. “There, see where the wild grasses end and the snowy farm field begins. There. And in the gully, too.”

He does’t see the owls, and tells me there are no owls. I see them, perhaps four or five, flying low and landing down in the big bluestem and Indian grass.

“There she is,” I repeat as one of the females cruised low over the grasses. Dark against the evening sky, long winged. I admire her tawny red-brown feathers and powerful flight.

I remember how the male harrier looks, a raptor that sometimes inhabits the same meadows. He is much smaller. He is silvery grey, and thus called grey ghost. The females get no name of such mystery. Red power.

He finishes his book, and comes closer to the window. “Where?” he asks. I point. He doesn’t see. I linger longer.

“Can we go?” he asks finally.

“I’m disappointed, too. I wanted to show you the owls,” I say. I wait, waiting. As the sun’s power gives way to the winter night, another watcher of owls slowly drives by our truck. He is alone and raises a black leather gloved hand to wave. I wish I could talk to him as his car slides by.



“He’s from Pennsylvania. He came all the way from Pennsylvania to see the owls,” I say.

More than a decade ago, I’d linger long over the birds, watching, listening, looking in my books to give them names. Life is busier now, but today I lingered at the bird feeder. I lay down in the snow, watching, long after the cold snow wicked my body heat and soaked my gloves. I laid in the snow, listening to wing beats, recognizing the individuality of birds that seem so similar to each other upon a quick glance, the way that busy, bustling people on the street blend together.

I noticed a chickadee with two white feathery tufts above the eyes. I wondered if this was the one with the high pitched call, unlike the other chickadees.

“I’ll come back again to see the owls,” I say to the slumped boy next me.

They were beautiful. The grasslands, the mountains in the distance, the sky, the owls tonight.