Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I left Lehman's Hardware, many pounds of popcorn richer, and went back to check on the distant owl in the cornfield. Yep, still hunkered down there, well out of camera range. Oh well. A huge flock of horned larks lisped over. I looked up, and an exquisite rough-legged hawk hove into view.
Against all odds, it came and circled over to check me out. Maybe it thought I had a mouse in my pocket. Maybe it felt sorry for me, not getting photos of the Kidron Road Owl. Maybe it had never seen somebody grin that big.
Oh, people look above you...
It's there your hope must lie
There's a (big) bird above you, gliding in one place
Like Jesus in the sky...
(Jackson Browne, "Rock Me On the Water")
Rough-legs take my breath away and don't give it back for a long time.
Oh thank you, Hawk, thank you.
When the hawk flew out of sight, I headed for a small regional airport where a snowy owl had been hanging out for several weeks. I was excited at the possibility that I'd be close enough to focus my trusty 70-300 mm Canon lens on the bird. I didn't know that I'd make a bunch of new friends in the process.
I pulled up next to the all-purpose gate/office/hangar/machine shop/pilot lounge building and began scanning the runway from my car. A gentleman came out and looked in all directions across the runway and surrounding fields.
I had a hunch he'd know all about the owl. So I asked him if he knew where the big white bird might be.
"Well, it likes to hang out on the watch shop, and that white aviation building, and the second telephone pole down toward the farm, and toward evening it generally sits on the green oil tank back there."
I knew I'd found The Man. David is Airport Manager here, and he'd been watching the owl for five weeks. Not, I'd add, with a spotting scope. He's borrowing mine here.
This man has 39,000 hours in the cockpit. He had that raptorial gaze, that far-off pilot look in his eyes. I could not even imagine flying that much, that far. I wondered what all he's seen and done. I wanted to ask him a million questions, just listen to him talk, but he is a man of few words. I don't think I've done anything for 39,000 hours in my life, unless it's lollygagging.
I indulged my fascination for flying machines, peeking into the spotless hangar. Ohhhh. David was very relaxed about my dancing all over the tarmac and peeking in there.
A Piper came in, and he walked out to meet it, carrying some home-made chocks for its wheels. I liked this little airport.
I found this air ambulance so beautiful, and longed to go up in it, but not because I had to...
It wasn't long before another small plane came sailing in, and this one spooked the owl from its hidden resting place behind a rise! I saw its great white sails cleaving the air and got very excited. I swung my scope onto the bird, took it in, and shared the magnificent sight right away with David. It was sitting on a runway light, too far away to photograph, but thrillingly close through the scope.
Word spread through the complex and pilots, mechanics and line personnel appeared like magic to see the wondrous sight, brought close by the scope.
Jennifer showed up with her two sons, one 12, one newly in college. None of the three had ever seen a snowy owl, but they'd heard it might be here. I was delighted to put their spotting scope on the bird.
Everyone was smiling. I felt like there might be sparks flying off my hair and fingertips, I was so happy that everyone was getting to see it. Just to be in the presence of someone seeing a life bird is such an honor. But a snowy owl?! Words fail me. All I could do was smile.
The little planes came and went. I didn't know they wheel them out of the hangar and hand-roll them out on the tarmac. Oh, I want to fly, too.
The ceiling lowered and snowflakes began drifting down. It would be dark all too soon. The owl had flown off. It was time for me to leave, though I didn't want to. David pointed to a big white pole barn, suggesting that the owl might be perching there. I drove over and soon discerned a giant white blob just a settin' on a floodlight. Ohhhh! I pulled into the parking lot at a respectful distance, for this owl is skittish and I could tell that David didn't like to see it flushed by people trying to get closer. I wasn't going to be that boob. So I lay across the seat, rolled down the window, and waited for it to look my way.
O marvelous white ghost of the Arctic, thank you for coming down here to visit us. May you find many voles and rabbits, may you return to your birthplace healthy and fat, to find a mate and make more giant ice owls.
As I ogled and shot, waiting for increasingly long periods for the owl to deign to look my way, I heard the whisper of tires behind me. Looked out to see two young women with excited smiles on their faces. Rolled down the window.
"What are you looking at?"
I couldn't believe they didn't see the owl up there, but they didn't have binoculars. So I pulled alongside their car and handed them mine.
Their suppressed squeals of delight made a fabulous day perfect.
Kara and Amanda work for Stark County Parks District.
They were the best. So excited. Wanted to bring their whole office here to see this wonder from the North. I said DO IT.
Thing is, I wanted to be there, handing out loaner binoculars like candy, setting up the scope...An owl this magnificent must be seen well.
I got their business cards and gave them mine. We decided to make a date soon.
I drove home down old Highway 250, looking at the corn shocks in the gloaming, thinking about this cool, parallel other world I'd been in all day. A place where horses still whicker softly to their people when they finally come out of the grocery store
which is stacked with row upon row of beautiful fresh spices and herbs and more popcorn and yes I bought some...
A place where the world's most awe-inspiring owls have come to spend the winter, making birdwatchers of everyone who falls under their spell.
And for someone who's been birding since she was eight, magically making it all fresh and new again.