This, Soren realized in the deepest part of his gizzard, was why they had to go to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree. For when the world one knew began to crumble away bit by bit, when not only your memories but the memories that others might have of you grew dim with time and distance, when, indeed, you began to fade into a nothingness in the minds of the owls that you loved best, well, perhaps that was when legends could become real.
The huge owl blinked in wonder at these young owls. They seemed to know nothing. And yet…He let the thought trail off. Certainly their survival skills must be pretty good if they got out of St. Aggie’s. Still, there was no education like the one he had received. The education of an orphan. The orphan school of tough learning. He had to learn it all himself. How to fly, where to hunt, what creatures to stalk and which to avoid at all costs. No, nothing could compare to figuring out on one’s own the hard rules and schemes of a forest world—a world with uncountable riches and endless perils. It took a tough owl to figure it all out. And that was exactly how Twilight thought of himself. Tough.
“Don’t look back! Don’t look back, Soren! Believe!” But this time it was not Grimble calling. It was Gylfie. Just as they reached the stone rim, they felt a curl of warm air. And it was as if vast and gentle wings had reached out of the night, and swept them up into the sky. They did not look back. They did not see the torn owl on the library floor. They did not hear Grimble, as he lay dying, chant in the true voice of the Boreal Owl, in tones like chimes in the night, an ancient owl prayer: “I have redeemed myself by giving belief to the wings of the young. Blessed are those who believe, for indeed they shall fly.”
Gylfie’s directness shocked Soren. He stopped blinking and looked straight at the Elf Owl. “Look. What did I just tell you? Everything here at St. Aggie’s is upside down and inside out. It’s our job not to get moon blinked and to stand right side up in an upsidedown world. If we don’t do that we’ll never be able to escape. We’ll never be able to think. And thinking is the only way we’ll be able to plan an escape.”
Grimble sighed. He was going to miss these two. He might miss their questions most of all. It felt so luxurious to be able to ask and answer questions. He had once thought the sweetest taste in the world was that of a freshly killed vole, but now he knew differently. The sweetest thing was a question on the tongue.
“Close to the sky,” Soren repeated softly. Once he, too, had been close to the sky. Once he had lived in a hollow high up in a fir tree lined with the fluffy down from his parent’s breasts. Once he had lived close to that blueness. That blueness of the day sky and the blackness of the night had been so near. No wonder a little owlet could almost believe it could fly before it really could. The sky was a part of owls and owls were a part of the sky.
“Mary, listen. The way the owl hunts, he sits in a piñon and he hoots. He can’t see the rabbits, and they can’t see him. And that’s the problem for the rabbits. He hoots. And he waits a little to let them think about it, and he hoots again. And the rabbits think. And one of them will think too much. He thinks the owl is getting closer and closer. He thinks the owl has found him. So he makes a run for it, and the owl has her meal for the night.”
Mary moved his hand from her leg. “Okay, wise guy,” she whispered. “I get your point.”
–People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman
During my travels I have utilized hundreds of trains, subways, buses and other forms of mass transportation. I have also gazed upward (tourist-image-be-damned) to take in hundreds (thousands?) of buildings. In every city, as well as more than a few suburbs or towns, I have found myself looking at evidence of the human futility known as rat and pigeon protection. Most of the time these consist of sharp spikes sticking out of building ledges, like the giant fangs of a vicious thorn bearing plant; or metal coverings placed over possible entry points. While it is obvious that none of these things work, the most perplexing among the most frequently recurring options is the giant eye.
Imagine a large beach ball hanging from a ceiling and decorated to look like a brown target with the darkest circle in the very center. It has a vague resemblance to an eye and it is meant to scare away pigeons by imitating the appearance of a bird of prey during an attack. I have yet to see a giant eye that was not covered in pigeon poop or acting as a perch for several pigeons and other random birds.
I really started to think about the giant eye while in the Philadelphia 30th street train station. I was fidgeting away the minutes, waiting for a commuter train, when I glanced up and noticed the poop-covered eye hanging from the ceiling and could not help but wonder how many generations of pigeons had come and gone without ever once encountering a bird of prey – ANY bird of prey. How can you expect a scare tactic to work when the instincts the fear is based in are so far removed from the animal’s reality that they have (literally) been forgotten?
When I ran across this article in Modern Farmer, I immediately thought about the giant eye and all of the pigeons, rats, bugs and heaven-only-knows what else simply waiting to be feasted upon by the first predator with both opportunity and a realistic chance of surviving in the midst of human-only habitation.
Of course, barn owls are interested in rats, not pigeons, but the train stations and subways have plenty of those. It would be an interesting challenge to create a realistic living space that provided the owls a safe place to live, free access to wild food sources and protection from oncoming traffic – including airplanes, trains, trolleys, buses, trucks and cars. I don’t know if it’s possible or practical, but it would be far more effective than the giant eye.
“Unlike other owl species, like great-horned owl or barred owl, barn owls have a heavy preference for rats and mice. And while they might be adorable, they are also natural killers…One barn owl can cover over a mile and will eat between three and six mice each night, approximately 2,000 mice yearly. A family, including chicks, in one nest box, can devour 8,000 mice in one year.”
“So how to get owls to take up residence on your property? Barn owls want homes that are cozy, warm and safe. Many live in rafters, tree cavities and in barns because they do not build nests. This gives farmers the opportunity to provide a home and enable owls to hunt rodents in fields, improving crop production, yield and profit.”