The Owls Next Door by Jane St. Clair

September 29th, 2016 · No Comments

Owls Next Door…. by Jane St. Clair

One morning –very early–for it was dawn and dark outside– I saw two strange birds outside my window. I could see only their silhouettes which were enormous as birds go. At first I thought they were hawks, but their heads were too big, and their bodies too square and chunky. Then I thought they were vultures, but they did not have hunched shoulders. They were roosting high up in the tree next door, but not near a nest.


As the dark light changed into yellow sunrise, I could make them out better. Not only did they have enormous bodies, they also had enormous heads with tufted ears and big round yellow eyes. They stared back at me in this patriarchal way, as if I were a court clown annoying a pair of kings.

I had never seen owls this big before. When we lived along the Ohio River, we often saw a family of owls but they were funny little creatures — a gray mama with her five white babies that lined up in a row and turned their heads back and forth as they said “who who who.” They had a sweet energy about them and reminded me of that nursery song, “‘Sing,’ said the mama, ‘Sing if you can,’ and they sang and they sang all over the dam.”

But the owls next door are different.


They stare back at me as if they wish I’d fly away. They stare with those eyes — oh! those yellow eyes! and those big straight eyebrows that tilt up, as if they’re making strategies for Wall Street. And they have these enormous muscular legs –with fierce claws mean enough to carry off a cat or a small dog!

The owls next door are there every morning, staring back at me. Some days I see not two but four of them! Between them they have enough fierce energy to take on Patton’s Army! They have a name: Great Horned Desert Owls. They are predatory creatures of the night, and they are at their deadliest when the sun goes down. Once I was able to watch one of them zero on a little rodent with those terrible swift eyes and then –with all the pressure, purpose and precision of a high-tech drone– he angled down and grabbed that rat.


The Native American tribes here near Tucson respect the owl kingdom very much –in fact, some even say owls are harbingers of death. In some legends owls are a channel between this world and the world to come.

owl-kachina-doll-northern-arizona-university-museum-1Albert Einstein wrote, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that we can comprehend the universe.” I think he meant we can understand physics in terms of numbers and formulas and pi’s written in white chalk marks on never-ending blackboards. But what is just amazing to me is that we can understand and relate to strange creatures like Great Horned Owls in the way all living things understand one another, even though our lives are quite different.

Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that the most incomprehensible thing?

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Check out more nature essays about animals of the Arizona Sonoran Desert at Hail Coyote Nation and The St. Croix Cougar Belongs to the West. Jane’s nature essay “Nowhere Near” appears in the 2016 Fall issue of Ruminate magazine. Literative posted Jane’s award-winning story “Roadkill” on their website.

Tags: Arizona · nature essay · owls