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Focusing on the Owl

He’d been sitting there for twenty minutes, tooting at the young Red-tailed Hawk soaring over head.  The hawk was attempting to mind its business, but two Common Ravens were relentlessly dive bombing it,  drawing the whole forest below into a reel of uneasy glances and murmurs of displeasure. No one in the forest likes ravens or hawks.

I wasn’t bored, it was just time to start moving on and search for more cavities. Wrangling my pack, weighed down with rusty metal the pack-rat in me couldn’t resist, I slowly stood up on the old growth stump that had been my seat. Just as I was about to hop to the ground, he darted up, narrowly missing a surprise grab of a female American Robin. She turned at the last moment, spurting a single alarm and ducking away. Cowed, he landed nearby and hooted haughtily, pumping his tiny tail and flexing his oversized talons.

His intended prey didn’t think too much of him. She buzzed him once, alighting adjacent, squawking irately. Without a surprise, there wasn’t a chance to take a bird as large as himself. Silently, he flew off, the robin in tow, never relenting her display of displeasure. She was telling the whole forest about his existence. If it wasn’t for her, I might not have found where he had stooped to. In a snag to the left of his new perch, was an old woodpecker cavity. Filling its circumference was the full moon glare of a Northern Pygmy-owl, obviously disturbed from her incubation by this noisy thrush.

I’d found my first Northern Pygmy-owl nest!

Most naturalists have some intellectual struggles with society, now-a-days magnified by technology. All those gadgets ultimately create waste, distract from our need for a healthy world, and sometimes change our ways of thinking a bit too drastically. I’ve been vacillating a lot lately on this subject. There’s no arguing that I rely heavily on nature for subject matter alone. Yet there’s plenty of reasons that society needs nature around us. I never feel as alive as I do, even in capsize moments away from humanity. I’m never more focused, more creative, more jovial – more healthy.

Yet I love people and many of the interweaving cross sections of the urban, modern, technological life I live are near and dear to me. I am passionate about hip-hop culture (really an amalgam of the following), music, visual art (the greatest immersion of which is in a city), and the exchange of ideas that flows in a thriving community well cultivated in a larger populace. I’d have missed the point if I didn’t mention the internet, my personal use of a camera and a computer to convey what I find important and hope to be my lively hood. Much technology that is commonplace today I’ve never been without from adolescence on.

This pair of Northern Pygmy-owls were unveiled to me because I’m a city kid fortunate to have discovered passion for something other than video games and computer screens. Later, decompressing from a day in the field, I read an article by one of many authors I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t yet. Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” in his popular book Last Child in the Woods. There’s a real and significant divide between many kids of the developed world and nature. The thing that struck me more than anything else, was Louv’s emphasis on focus. Time spent outside allows you to use your senses, to focus, instead of actively working to block out all the unhelpful distractions of urban life.

I didn’t bring Louv up to rally against technology or urban life, I think the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls. So as to not be misconstrued: of course the environmental impacts of technology are a problem and can be improved upon. People still need nature in their lives just as much as ever, even with the medical, educational, and creative advances all these bundles of circuits provide. Moving on.

Ruminating on what luck I’d had to come across such a rare sight, I realized it wasn’t just luck. I actively tracked down the owl because I heard it. I patiently watched it for cues and after a good wait, was rewarded. Throw in someone who spends their time glued to a screen and you would probably had different results, even if they were fit and had spent that time studying birds. As a teen I was out watching birds – my formative years gave me a gift. People can regain these sorts of deficits, but it’s likely harder to do once you’re older if you grew up devoid of them.  Just like learning a new language.  Although I’d never thought about it so directly, I am lucky to have the connection to nature, the observational, sensual skill that I have. Being able to notice, intuit, and as a direct result, enjoy nature is another thing for the laundry list of things I am grateful for. As a good friend of mine has said to me many times: “Some people don’t do anything.”

I know more now than ever what he means by that.

While I got my recording work done, the male owl watched me with an impressive impassivity. He was small, but I wasn’t going to take too many chances. I didn’t need an owl stapled to my skull. I trotted off through the lime green, post fire shrub layer, goose stepping over downed logs in search of more nests. Hearing a Hairy Woodpecker in the distance, I turned for a last glance at the fiery fluff ball and his nest. Once the coast was clear, he barreled down to make sure I hadn’t done anything irretrievably human.

I suggest you enjoy some nature every day. Einstein went for a walk in the woods everyday.

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