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Owl Lovers? Count Me among Them


One overcast fall evening, I made the acquaintance of an owl. Late to choir practice, I was sprinting from the First Presbyterian Church parking lot across the front lawn.

As I rounded a clump of dogwoods, I found myself eye-level with a white owl. The gathering darkness was already well past sunset, but the snowy feathers were still distinct, row on row.

The eyes were rimmed in golden yellow and the beak jutted fiercely toward whatever supper his talons might grasp.

I stopped my thudding gallop and moved inch by inch past the keen stare, which gave no sign of alarm. My face was so close that I could watch the owl breathe and swivel its head to view me better.

By the time I reached the church door, I could see the bright body still perched at attention, its sight fixed far into the gloom. 

Before I could twist the door knob, the smallish bird spread into a 3-foot wing span and launched itself across the path.

In one graceful arc, the owl was gone, but the impression remained indelibly etched on my mind.

Often I have taken out that memory, stroked delicate feathers, and held the tenacious claws in my palm.

That unforeseen encounter has become an emblem to me, as though guarding nature means protecting my bird, my owl.

Nearly 20 years later, I heard the jeering voice of President Bush castigating the "spotted owl crowd."

I was startled at the number of people who took up his slogan and began flinging it at nature's champions. 

That's me they're ridiculing. I'm one of the tree-huggers and whale-protectors whom conservatives most despise.

The very name "conservative" makes me wonder what it is they want to conserve. If it is the America of former times, the anti-spotted owl league is too late. Much, like buffalo herds and passenger pigeons, resides in museums.

Every day, rapid industrialization sullies more of the land. When I hear chainsaws beyond my bedroom window, the raspy whine of jagged metal through bark gives me the shivers.

I know that more neighbors will come and services and industries must sprout in proportion to the increasing headcount.

At the same time, I wonder when people will begin to view with concern the price of growth, the cost of fallen oaks and piped-up creeks.

Will hummingbirds and monarch butterflies one day live in storybooks alongside pterodactyls?Will we witness the demise of the owl, the elephant, the alligator? Will mountain dells sprout plastic bottles where trillium and bloodroot once flourished?

When should we start to worry over how many barrels of medical waste have been towed out to sea, how much muck obscures the skies, how much scum clogs streambeds?

If we wait until there are no white owls or no dogwood branches for them to perch on, we will become a visionless species nested in our own filth, gazing into the murk of the coming night, where only kudzu thrives and the sound of the scurrying cockroach replaces the human footfall.


Charlotte Observer
"Catawba Valley Neighbors,"
March 24, 1993

 

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Mary Ellen Snodgrass Tel/Fax: (828) 324-0155