Thursday, January 23, 2014
My first trip to Amish country Ohio to see a snowy owl being such a roaring, two-owl success, I was all het up to repeat the performance. This time, I'd have victims. I'd take Shila and the kids, and arrange to meet my new friends Kara and Amanda, and they'd bring some family along, and we'd all feast our eyes on snowy owls through my scope and loaner binoculars. I was so excited I couldn't sleep much the night before. I had a big basket of binoculars, my scope, cheese and crackers and fruit and dates and nuts and energy bars, nary a cheezy pouf to be found.
Realized too late that Lehman's Hardware and all but a couple of restaurants would be closed on the Sabbath, many being Amish-run. I said some not-very-Sabbathy words when that realization hit me. But Sunday looked best for weather, at least from a few days out, so Sunday it would be.
Well, it turned out that Sunday would top out partly sunny, in the lower 20's, with sustained winds of 20-30 mph. And we found out that snowy owls don't like to be out and about in high winds. I don't know what they do in high winds. From what we witnessed, I'm pretty sure they lie down on their white bellies in a furrow between the white rows of snow in the cornfield, close their eyes, and go to sleep.
We took the whole day. We looked and looked without success. We barely saw any birds at all. Well, there were some distant blizzards of horned larks, mixed with snow buntings, and a couple of distant rough-legged hawks, and two male harriers powering by low over the stubble. We drove back and forth down dirt roads, sightseeing but not seeing a lot else. So we met Dave at the small regional airport he manages, hoping against hope that his owl had shown up. He'd brought his Sheltie pup, Lexie, with him. I think he wanted us to meet her, and maybe make a little fuss over her.
Lexie is kind of like a fox in dog's clothing. She is extremely bright, very vocal, and she questions everything that happens. This is not a complacent animal. This is a dog who is engaged with every cell.
We all fell in love, right away.
Shila worked some of her calming magic on Lexie by doodling with her ears. When Shila doodles with my ears in a session, I make this face too.
Because there was no owl at the airport, nor was it likely there would be an owl at the airport, I repaired to the Pilot's Lounge, a dark, quiet room where tired pilots go to recharge, to try the Barcolounger. It is a good thing we don't have one at home. My skellington would probably be found in it in early spring, after a long search.
We finally figured out that what Lexie wanted all along was for Phoebe to carry her around. She stopped barking and got as limp as a noodle. Phoebe would have gladly carried that dog out, and home, but I think Dave would have stopped her.
All the way home, a quiet voice from the back seat would pipe up. "I want a puppy."
You has a puppeh. The Oldest Puppy in the World.
The sun got lower and lower in the sky and my photographer's alarm went off. LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT it shrieked. So we said our goodbyes to our friends at the airport and Dave promised to call us when the owl finally showed up.
We went out to find ourselves an Amish country sunset.
And oh, did we.
The sky cleared off and the sun turned gold and the snow turned pinky lilac.
We raced back to the road with the best draft horses and the windmills and farmhouses.
What we found is worth a whole 'nother post. Because the beauty might disable you if I unleashed it all here. We realized that we were here not to see an owl, but for whatever the land and sky would give us. A snowy owl would have been a bonus.
Dave called my cell about 9 the very next morning. "Guess who's sitting out at the end of the runway."
"AUUGGGHH!! I hate you. Get outta here."
Much laughter. Birding. It can be that way. We'll be back, like Ahnold, on a weekday with calm winds when we can have our owl and Lehman's Hardware too.