Meeting with Owls – Whispers, hoots, and shrieks

Barred Owl

Here in the Haliburton Highlands, it’s not uncommon to hear owls hooting at night.

They call out to one another across the distance, through the darkness, in and around the forests that surround our house.

Calls range from high-pitched screeching vocals to the more familiar, low-throated husky hoots, put forth with rippled tones that can only be heard in their entirety if both they and you are perched near the same open window.

Depending on your point of view, an owl’s call can be thrilling or bone chilling. I choose the former!

Very recently I was over the moon after spying, quite by chance, a Barred owl perched, napping really, on a dead lower branch in an oak tree behind our home. It’s a rare occasion to see an owl up close during daylight hours. Even more of a thrill than hearing one at night.

Snowy Owl

The first owl I ever saw, a Snowy owl, occurred only months after moving to the country from Toronto. It was one of those exceptional winters where the snow never seemed to stop accumulating, and due to the extremely cold temps, Snowy owls ventured further south than usual in search of food.

While waiting at our driveway for my son, arriving home momentarily on the school bus, I spotted that Snowy owl in another tree near our house. Magnificent to say the least, I couldn’t wait to point out the owl to my son, who by now was climbing down the steps of the bus.  As we approached the house, and consequently the owl, it took flight, heading directly towards us, swooping not far above our heads, with the soft sound of feathers in flight as we watched it disappear in to the woods beyond.

My son, a youthful old soul, declared that owl was welcoming us to our new home. I describe this as a moment of bliss, where a mother and her child share a real treasure from nature, and a moment I’ll never forget. But, I digress…

Back to the Barred owl, I found myself stating out loud, “Don’t go anywhere. I have to find my camera!”, despite the fact that the window was closed, and the tree this owl occupied is 40 feet from our house. I suspect my cat Luna, the only audience within earshot, must have thought I was speaking to her, and in hindsight, she must have been wondering what the hell I was doing, camping out in the bathroom for such a long time.

It did occur to me at the time that I was forest bathing in the bathroom!

In any case, camera in hand, I grabbed the kitchen stool and shuttled on to the bathroom, where that particular window offered a better angle and view with which to attempt photographing this lovely creature. Sitting on that hard chair on and off for six hours, balancing the camera on the windowsill held steady with a lavender sachet as a prop, I took way too many photos and enjoyed every moment. The best part for me was when the owl flew away. If you’re interested, I had the forethought to capture it here on video.

As an artist,  I’ve depicted them in paintings and sculpture. For some reason, perhaps due to the mystique surrounding them, (among other creatures), they pique my curiosity and have been some sort of a muse over the years. I’ve tried my hand at producing creative depictions of them in various ways, including writing this post!

With this affinity for owls, and like many little girls, I was inducted to the Guides organization as a Brownie. I remember noting how all the group leader’s names were some sort of owl. My friend’s mother who volunteered was ‘Tawny Owl’. I really liked her, and perhaps because of this, I’ve never considered owls to be in any way threatening.

Think of the wise old owl in Winnie the Pooh who wasn’t in anyway threatening. More likely the voice of reason in that blustery, one hundred acre wood.

The owl’s reputation has been much maligned and misunderstood over the centuries. Their appearance, discredited by mankind, has unfairly earned owls negative connotations throughout history. Some of the myth and folklore surrounding them has sadly saddled them with all sorts of insidious labels.

Owl superstitions vary slightly, and each one is interesting, but as a general consensus European folklore especially, foretells that simply hearing an owl can lead to all manners of horrible things including death, war, destruction, pestilence, and more.

Ovid speaks despairingly of owls in his fifth book of ‘The Metamorphoses’, stating “Ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen“, which (thanks to Google translator) loosely means, “Screech owl of evil omen”.

That’s a heavy burden for any creature to bear!

The owl is connected with birth. An ancient belief in England states that an owl appearing near the birth of a child foreboded ill luck to that infant for life.

Shakespeare alludes to this in Henry VI, part III, Act V. sc. vi, where the King, addressing Gloucester, says “The owl shrieked at thy birth, an evil sign.”

Shakespeare again alludes to the owl, this time in connection with magic. In Macbeth, the Witches are careful to introduce the ‘owlet’s wing’ into the bubbling cauldron.

In some areas of China, the owl’s voice is said to resemble the voice of a spirit or demon. Some equate its call with digging a grave, which may account for the lore that an owl’s cry portending someone’s death.

Because an owl’s Gaelic name is Ullaid, (and if you’ll humour me), I do wonder if there’s some connection between the Gauls and Celtic people to Homer’s Iliad. Due to Athena’s connection with that particular literary work, and her affinity with owls, this bird is often referred to as the “owl of Athena”.

Because of this, owls are still used as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom throughout the Western world. Back to the wise owl in Winnie the Pooh! In any case, naïve as it may sound, the two words Ullaid and Iliad side by side always struck me as something worth pondering.

As a spirit animal, the owl represents female energy, it’s connected to the moon, a messenger of truth, and with reference (and reverence) for North American Native Shamanic knowledge and their teachings, owls relate to the Medicine Wheel where the lesson is about removing pride and offering tolerance instead. Something, many people could take note of these days… Just sayin’.

Owls help keep the rodent population down and they’re terrific parents. Simply put, they’re beautiful birds. And, whether it’s wisdom or death, liberty or war, I’m sure the owl will continue to fascinate us for a long time to come.

The myth of this bird contains both dark and light, a balance, just like the two wings any bird requires for flight. As for me, I do hope for another visit from this, and other remarkable creatures, sometime in the near future.


References

  • Snowy Owl – Wikipedia
  • The folk lore and provincial names of British birds, by Swainson, C. A. (Charles Anthony), 1820-1887
    Published, 1886
  • Gaelic names of beasts, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, etc. in two parts: by Forbes, Alexander Robert, Published, 1905
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses, With an English Translation by Frank Justus Miller, In Two Volumes
    Harvard University Press, Second edition, 1921
  • Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth. A glossary of Greek birds. Oxford, Clarendon Press 1895, pp 45-46.
  • Gimbutas, Marija (2001). Robbins Dexter, Mirijam, ed. The living goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 157–158. ISBN 9780520927094
  • Image of Athena holding a helmet and a spear, with an owl. Attributed to the Brygos Painter (circa 490–480 BC). The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small,  by Ted Andrews

Chelone lyonii, Pink turtle head – A lovely native species offering autumn blooms

The beautiful Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ also goes by the common name of pink turtlehead. It blooms from July straight through to October, so it’s a terrific addition to any garden.

Chelone comes from the Greek word meaning tortoise because each blossom obviously resembles, without too much imagination, a turtle’s head.

A great perennial for late summer colour that doesn’t much like excessive heat, it will tolerate full sun if its feet are kept cool. The flowers are primarily pollinated by bees, but the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will often visit them as well. The foliage of this plant is known to be bitter so it’s avoided by Deer and other herbivores. In my own experience the deer have yet to touch the Chelone, so this species is something to cheer about by any rural gardener!

Lucky to have this plant in my garden due to a lovely share from another local gardener, in the six or so years since it’s established, the plant has multiplied from one single flowering stem into more than a dozen. With its strong stems, the clump doesn’t flop over after a rainstorm.

It’s worth noting that there’s a white flowering species called Chelone glabra that I’d like to get my hands on! A host plant for the endangered Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, and like their pink cousin they too will thrive in damp locations and shady glades.

It’s my hope to collect many seeds this year. I’ll be able to offer them online at my Etsy shop. The pollinators did their jobs well, seed heads are forming, and with a little luck the mild weather we’re currently experiencing means they’ll ripen before the first hard frost. Then I can get my hands on some! Culture/Info:

  • Foliage: Herbaceous smooth-textured.
  • Requires consistently moist soil.
  • Propagation Methods: By dividing the root-ball or from seed.
  • Direct sow outdoors in fall or early spring.
  • Stratify seeds if sowing indoors.
  • Seed Collecting: Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds.
  • Non-patented native perennial
  • Height: 24-36 in. (60-90 cm)

Thanks for visiting. Happy Autumn! : )

Early spring… gardening à la carte

Once the snow starts melting here in the Haliburton Highlands, it’s like opening Pandora’s Box.

If you’ll forgive me for pointing out the obvious, there’s no stopping spring, but seriously who would want to?!

Life in central Ontario Canada, (zone 4a to a Canadian & zone 3 to an American), means patiently observing (not always), and enjoying (always), other gardeners online progressions of this season.

Living vicariously might be another way of stating this!

For those of you who do live in milder climes, we’re playing catch-up here, (weather-wise), as most living in the rest of this continent, except of course those located farther north, have been experiencing growth in their plots for some time.

One of my yearly rituals, (as that’s exactly what this has become. but I’m likely not alone in this), is to inspect the garden once most of the ground is reviving from its snowy grip. Not only do I see what’s popping up, but it really offers me insight into any damage that may have occurred, not only from the force of winter itself, but any neighboring creatures who co-habitat the property.

Mostly I’m speaking of Voles, but that’s a blog post (rant) for another day!

Sharing here is two-fold – Interested like minds see what happening in this neck of the woods, and it’s a visual compendium to look back upon from year to year. I note any changes that have taken place throughout the property, and this also prompts me with ideas, (sometimes outrageous/unrealistic ones) on what I’d like to continue with/change this coming year.

Many bulbs are shooting up and the daffs are not in flower yet, but crocuses are strutting their stuff, as are the blue scilla.

I was happy to see the forsythia in flower. It didn’t seem happy last year so it was relocated it to a sunnier space. It’s currently rewarding me by way of golden blooms.

A tree partially fell down last year and as you can see, the woodpeckers were all over it! Looks a bit like a totem pole hewn by a beak. Perhaps a flowering vine of some sort will be well suited to that spot! Methinks it has ‘trellis’ written all over it.

In any case, this is yesterday’s garden tromp à la Wall Flower Studio, the garden, not the shop! Pending publishing this post, I shall be out the door for another adventure.

Was a glorious spring day here, and I’m hoping it was for you, too!