On Owls And Men


Dennis Dezendorf

Aiming at you The cloak of evening lies along the bayou, drawing a veil of darkness across the cypress sentinels at the edge of the swamp. The rain has recently stopped and tendrils of fog emerge in the pasture and tops of the trees, as if the land is exhaling quietly. A pair of owls hoot in the trees at the edge of the pond. Instinctively, I check my step and turn to wonder at the predators come to hunt my land. The hair rises on the back of my neck at the call of one answering another, and I slip into the house.

Of the creatures of the night, few are as universally feared as the owl. Perhaps we fear what we cannot see, and owls make their living when we are most vulnerable. For many of our smaller brethren, the call of the owls and a soft rush of feathers is the final consciousness before the clutch of the talons. The owl is an efficient hunter. Native Americans called the owl the "bird of death" and some tribes banned the wearing of owl feathers as a bad omen.

Those of us who spend time in the swamps note the location of an owl when he reveals himself. To acknowledge another predator, to mark his territory with our mind, is an instinctual response, a vestige of our ancient heritage.

We, as a species, are rather poorly equipped to survive in nature. Our recorded history is a mere tick on the cosmic clock. Homo Sapiens is only hours old compared to the viruses that strike us down. The owls are descended, we learn, from the dinosaurs that ruled millions of years ago. We rely on a complex society and technology for food, shelter, and our play. Our civilization is a thin armor, fitting poorly, worn to protect us from the things that harm us, and often as not to protect us from ourselves.

Some afternoons I'll walk up on the hill behind the pond. I'll almost certainly be scolded by a bluejay. This doesn't bother me much, as I am in her house, after all, stinking up the place and stumbling around. I have seen a mole back there too, who will pop up and look towards me with rheumy eyes before returning to his work. His demeanor implies, that I, a man, am simply a distraction between tunneling and supper.

Who, whoThere is a beech tree on that hill and its roots at the base nicely fit my buttocks. As I sit beneath that tree, in my cathedral of the valley, I am properly reminded of my limitations by the other species who live on my land. I see myself as a pitiful creature, unable to survive without society and science, without technology and electricity. My culture is based on consumption and when the electricity goes out I am kind of misplaced and apprehensive. In the gathering dusk, I walk toward the house, properly chastised. A pair of owls hoot over the pond, and I turn.

Even with all our bravado and science, with our art and literature, we are afraid of owls and forced to live between the bluejays and the moles.


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