Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Owls

I continued my winter theme of owls with a trip to Jones Beach last Sunday.

It seems like, throughout most of human history, we have had a fascination with owls. Owl symbols, folklore and mythology go back thousands of years. From Aboriginal pictographs to Internet blogs, owl tale's have kept up with our evolving forms of communication. In New York, during the months of short days and long nights, birders don their winter gear in search of these curious creatures. At Jones Beach on Sunday there were more people than I'd ever seen on a winter day. They were wandering the beaches and median strips, hoping to catch a glimpse of an owl or two. A tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl tried to blend in with the pine cones as he slept on a perch within a conifer. A pair of Snowy Owls attempted to remain inconspicuous within an 8 mile stretch of dunes; difficult to do (if not impossible) when one is bright white, stands 2 feet tall and there are 60 people hunting for you.

Civilizations have always had a love-hate relationship with owls. Worldwide myths about these birds fall into two categories; they are magically evil or they are magically good. They have been damned as the helper to wizards, witches and sorcerers, as well as, the protectors of women, children and soldiers. Seeing an owl means a good harvest to some and bad luck to others.

Owl's eyes feature prominently in mythologies. Medicines, potions and amulets made with their eyes cure seizures, act as a truth serum, allow one to see in the dark or avert the evil eye.

Polish folklore says that owls don't come out during the day because they are too beautiful. They would be mobbed by other, jealous birds.

Why owls? What is the allure? Most of the world's owls are nocturnal creatures. Until the invention of electric lights, human activities have been, for the most part, diurnal. Shrouded in darkness, our inability to view, let alone understand, the life of owls had paved the way for these myths. Despite our "modern" comprehension of wildlife, some people still fear owls. It may have something to do with their eyes.

If one is lucky enough to happen on an awakened owl, their eyes stare back at us with an intensity that, for some, can be unnerving. When I look at an owl, they don't seem to be observing me as a whole, so much as, staring directly into and through my eyes.

I've spend uncountable hours watching Brooklyn's Red-tailed Hawks and their offspring. There have been times when I've felt as though these animals know me and have accepted my presence. It may sound silly, but I sometimes feel as though I know them. I think it would be impossible for me to have the same type of relationship with an owl.

As the season cycle rolls on, my encounters with a small, beautiful, dark-eyed owl I'd become familiar with have been fewer and farther apart. Always kept at arm's length, perhaps some mysteries are best left to the imagination.

1 comment:

Bluebird of Friendliness said...

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!

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