It is the middle of January, the dead of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. When the cloud cover allows moonlight through, the snow-covered landscape takes on a grayish hue. On a still night, breathing creates a lingering fog, softening the view until the mist dissipates. Sounds carry farther because the air is denser. Many of the smaller mammals are holed up or hibernating, trying to retain precious body heat. Yet there are creatures stirring.
My neighborhood has had at least one barred owl claiming it as hunting territory since 2009. Starting in January through early March, Lucy and I would sometimes hear the local owl hooting to a distant owl, and it was worth losing 30 minutes of sleep to listen in awe. The hooting would last about 30 seconds with a several minute pause before starting again. Last night was probably the first night of a 4:15 a.m. solo. It was at least -10°F at the start of the hooting, but owls know how to stay warm. Owls are also smarter than we humans believe. On the other hand, some humans are bird brains and exhibit the intelligence of a rock with unintentionally hilarious results.
One person in the neighborhood took umbrage with the vocalizations and shouted at the owl to shut up, rather profanely I might add. Rather than the expected result of the owl either quieting down or flying away, the hooting continued after the usual several minute pause. This triggered a slightly longer epithet-laden response from over the fence. The next round of hoots was punctuated with a slamming door but no further response from the bird-brained human. By 4:45 a.m. the owls were done catching up, and now it was time for the cardinals, blue jays, and crows to start their days. Bird songs eventually gave way to opening garage doors and running engines as the sun timidly peeked over the horizon.
“Son of Polar Vortex” is engulfing the Upper Midwestern United States for the next several days. Like most sequels, this one does not seem to be living up to the original. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining, however. Nearly five inches of snow fell before the onset of the deep freeze, which helped cover much of the dirty snow. Friday should see another quick warm up before temperatures plunge again, although not as sharply as before. Here’s hoping spring shows up early this year. Some of the bird brains are getting a bad case of cabin fever.