When I was a young man I read a love story in which the boy exclaims “…a girl who loves owls!”. They’d go out on the lake in the canoe and she’d be all wistful at the sound of owls and his soul would leave his body at the thought that he’d finally found Her, after assuming there was no-one else like that. He knew he had found THE one. I was years away from finding you, and had thought alot about how to know the One Girl, but the owl test seemed better than anything I had heard so far. I held it for awhile. I, too, was weird, liking not just owls but many odd things, and assuming I’d never meet someone just as weird. But maybe. But then, such romantic dreams seem to die too often under the weight of real life.
I don’t know what test of yours I was lucky enough to pass, but years later we met and married, you and I, and I had somehow forgotten to apply the owl test. I forgot it completely. When I did remember that book, I just thought of it as somebody else’s romance, not for me.
We had a son and got engrossed in raising him. A decade on and I discovered the municipal naturalists and their nature walks. I took Isaac on the February owl walk, at night. Zero degrees, dark, a small huddle of nerdy citizens clumped around the naturalist in the woods, and a recording of the Barred Owl to draw the birds in to the invisible trees above our heads. We got one! An answering call came drifting over the suburban noises from a mile away, then closer, then silent as a midnight cloud, he settled on a branch and glared down at us, clearly miffed that the call was not actually a girl owl but just a tape and a speaker. With red cellophane covering the flashlight beam, we could just see his bulk and his eyes up in the beech branches. I wondered how often could you fake a Barred Owl’s friend before they got wise and disappeared forever from naturalists’ itineraries.
When I took you back, later, another night, to share the spot and the story with you, and you wanted to try, I was afraid we’d get caught by the authorities daring to call the owls without a license. But, we’re wild like that, so I thought, what the heck, it won’t work anyway.
“Who cooks for you? Who? Who?” You learned the Barred Owl’s call quickly and hooted it out into the woods and the night. (We’re going to jail, I thought, for nothing.) Listen. Dogs bark a mile away. Faint hum of traffic somewhere. Then, far away but unmistakably, the echo back: “Who cooks for you?” I catch my breath. It can’t be. You hoot again. He answers again, closer.
Then the shadow in the moon overhead and movement through the branches but without sound, the Owl settles directly over our heads. We don’t move, we don’t talk. Before I can quite muster my marvel, though, another shadow crosses the moon and another dark silhouette settles a few feet away from the first.
I had never imagined that we’d get both Mr. and Mrs. Owl together! You did, in one try, what the practiced professionals hadn’t done.
We stood like stones and watched them watch us from their imperial perch, maybe peeved to find neither mice nor wizards but a suburban middle-aged couple. Maybe embarrassed to be tricked by a suburban house wife who hoots like their own kin.
For me, it was the night I knew I had the Girl Who Summons Owls – two at once. Better than the girl in the book.