Thoreau stalks an owl (Walden 170)

Video with the barred owl’s distinctive “who cooks for you?” call.

Thoreau adds to his list of amusing ways to pass the winter:

“One afternoon I amused myself by watching a barred owl (Strix nebulosa) sitting on one of the lower dead limbs of a white pine, close to the trunk, in broad daylight, I standing within a rod of him. He could hear me when I moved and cronched the snow with my feet, but could not plainly see me. When I made most noise he would stretch out his neck, and erect his neck feathers, and open his eyes wide; but their lids soon fell again, and he began to nod. I too felt a slumberous influence after watching him half an hour, as he sat thus with his eyes half open, like a cat, winged brother of the cat. There was only a narrow slit left between their lids, by which be preserved a pennisular relation to me; thus, with half-shut eyes, looking out from the land of dreams, and endeavoring to realize me, vague object or mote that interrupted his visions. At length, on some louder noise or my nearer approach, he would grow uneasy and sluggishly turn about on his perch, as if impatient at having his dreams disturbed; and when he launched himself off and flapped through the pines, spreading his wings to unexpected breadth, I could not hear the slightest sound from them. Thus, guided amid the pine boughs rather by a delicate sense of their neighborhood than by sight, feeling his twilight way, as it were, with his sensitive pinions, he found a new perch, where he might in peace await the dawning of his day.”

Barred owl. Wikimedia Commons

Barred owl (Strix nebulosa). Wikimedia Commons

Like a photographer waiting for the perfect shot, his patience was rewarded. A memorable experience — but he had to earn it.

Getting back to barred owls, I can’t resist quoting a contemporary naturalist, Paul Johnsgard of the University of Nebraska:

“The person who first described a woman’s eyes as resembling ‘limpid pools’ must have been unfamiliar with those of the barred owl, or such fine language would never have been wasted in describing a mere human. The barred owl’s large and lustrous eyes seem very dark brown in one light and purplish black in another, but they always convey an intense sense of intelligence and mystery.” (The Nature of Nebraska, p. 117.)

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


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