Call and Response

Every year a pair of owls returns to a nest high in a tree on the far side of the park in which I live.  We hear them swoop through the night sky and call across the meadow as the sun sets.  As their babies grow, we hang from the porch of an old park model to snap photos with our long-range lenses or fancy iPhones.  We post the pictures on our residents’ page, wary of being more public with their location.  We fear that the sightseers will flock to our community even more than they already do, coming to stare at the tiny houses and the occasional lingering wild peacock.

A few days ago, I mentioned to one of the ladies that we soon should see babies in the owl tree.  She frowned and said, we noticed a bunch of crows making a commotion up there the other night.  Apparently it’s a thing crows do — attack owls.  I strained to remember if I’d seen or heard the pair.  It seemed to me that for the last few nights I had only heard one mournful set of hoots after the other, without the mimicking answer.  I began to worry.  

I drove the circle after work every day this week, craning my neck out the window.  I thought of stopping to ask one of the couples who lives near the nest what they’ve seen.  Mostly I fretted.  How dare those crows disturb the seasonal return of our owls!  For three years, those two have given me hope.  They herald spring.  When I see them, I know that the rains, however meager they have been, will soon vanish.  The winter winds will die down.  The buds will appear on my gardenias and my Japanese maple will unfurl its tender leaves.  The overhead growth will thicken but through the branches we will spy the owlets drowsing in the nest beneath their mother as their father soars across the park to distract predators.

This evening as I sat on the porch, I heard the warm ripple of an owl’s call.  i strained to hear, holding my breath.  Then the great male owl landed on the branch overhead. I ran for my camera.  He began his evening serenade.  Suddenly, I heard an answer, sweet and sure, ripple through the air from a nearby tree.  I waited, my camera raised and ready.  Then, as the light began to fall, she came and settled on the branch above him.  One after another they hooted into the evening air, first him, then her — call and response.   I closed my eyes and listened for a long minute to the duet of these lifelong mates, singing together in a towering oak above my neighbor’s house.

It’s the seventeenth day of the ninety-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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