Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"The Owls of North America and Their Calls"

This morning I took what is my usual springtime walk up and down the hill on which I live at about the half way up point.  I walked out my door and headed up a street lined with modest houses, some of which are more than 100 years old.  At first the incline is gentle but within a few minutes, it becomes quite steep until I get to the open gates of Big Rock Garden.  Even steeper than the street is the narrow driveway leading to the small parking area next to the beautiful wooden gate in the wooden fencing that keeps most of the deer out of Big Rock Garden. Almost every spring, a pregnant deer finds her way into the garden to give birth.  Once inside, I walk on all the paths -- a complex and delightful maze.  This time of year, the rhododendrons are just starting to bloom, and the many varieties of Japanese maples are showing their delicate leaves.  

Leaving Big Rock Garden, I walk down its driveway in the shade of evergreen trees and begin the uphill climb again, still on a city street.  The houses beyond Big Rock Garden are larger and newer, built in the last 40 years.  When I arrived here in 1974, this part of Bellingham was at the edge of a dense forest that extended for more than a mile before coming to Highway 542 which goes for 50 miles, from Bellingham to Mt. Baker in the North Cascades, and ends at a parking lot with an extraordinary view of the North Cascades.  Sections of this forest, a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees, have been left untouched and are accessible by paths from the surrounding housing developments.  

The city street dead ends at a relatively flat area on the hill, and there are footpaths to the right and to the left.  I go to the left which leads shortly to a tunnel that goes under the two-lane road that divides the older neighborhoods from the much newer neighborhoods with even larger houses that have what is left of the forest as their border.  

There is a small pond with cattails and ducks before the trail begins to steepen again.  Within a few minutes, I pass a tiny playground area behind a large house with a fenced yard and enter the forested area that has been named Northridge Park.  A wide graveled path loops through the forest.  Houses are visible from the trail but do not detract from the feeling of being in the woods.  The air is filled with birdsong.

At the top of the hill, I see into Canada over houses at the edge of the forest and as I begin the downhill walk home, I can see the city of Bellingham, the Salish Sea and San Juan Islands through the trees.

Just before I had looped around to the playground again, I heard an owl, loud and clear, and looked up toward the innermost part of the evergreen forest.  An owl was landing on a branch so high and obscured by other branches that I could only see its silhouette.  The owl continued to vocalize.  

Something prompted me to try to echo the sound of the owl.  My first attempt was laughable, but my second attempt sounded just like the owl.  As my voice trailed off, the owl abruptly flew across my field of vision, downward from left to right, through the trees, its wings illuminated in an astounding way by the morning sun still low in the sky!  In the next moment, I noticed a Brown Creeper on a nearby evergreen tree.  A little further down the trail was a young woman with a dog.  I asked her if she had seen the owl fly by.  She hadn't, but she was greatly excited at having heard the owl.  She said she thought at first that she was hearing a coyote.  Maybe that was my laughable first vocalization!  

After listening to all of the wonderful owls on the YouTube video, my guess is that the owl I heard and saw today was a Great Horned Owl.

It was today in 2008 that my R died just after 1 o'clock in the afternoon at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, California.  Coincidence?  I don't think so. 

Time heals, after all -- although the clock that marks that kind of time has no hands.
(Suze Rotolo)


Anonymous said...

Love reading about your hike and the owl call. I love that you answered it. A wonderful moment of connection.
The Suze Rotolo quote is really beautiful. Perfect on the anniversary of R's passing.

Sabine said...

What a great walk, so well written, I felt I was there.