I haven't seen my owlets in nearly two weeks. They grew up fast, as I knew they would. When I first encountered them, they could barely fly. Within 3 weeks, they were expert aviators. When I first met them, they would let me stand a few hundred feet away and take pictures and videos of them with my zoom lens. Within 3 weeks, the moment they heard me coming, they would fly away. I could barely catch a glimpse of them.
I knew they would be gone by the end of the summer, looking for their own territory. But I thought I had at least a month before they went off on their own.
But the last several times I've gone out to look for them, there has been no sign of them. I see feathers here and there that have been lying around for a while - nothing new, nothing fresh.
I listen so carefully, trying to hear their call, but nothing comes. I hear the magpies and the hawks, but no baby owls. Every now and then, I think I hear them…but when I stop to focus, the sound does not recur.
I have to admit, I really miss them. Watching them has been one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. What a privilege to get a chance to watch three baby owls grow into maturity.
In a way, they became my friends. I looked for them every Friday and Saturday evening. When you're owling, you have to slow down. You have to listen. The very act of walking so incredibly slowly, of looking into every tree for some clue of their whereabouts, was incredibly relaxing. It helped me manage the stress I've been struggling with at work. It helped me feel connected to a broader, wilder world than the one I currently inhabit.
Without little Lyra, Sirirus, and Vesper, I feel a little bit lost. Suddenly, the world feels so much emptier.
On Monday night, I walked the woods for over an hour, looking for them in the fading light. I began crying, feeling so hopeless that I will see their beautiful yellow eyes again. Was the last time the last time?
My sobbing startled a buck that had been eating grass several feet away. I didn't see him until he spooked and ran away. At the time, I was standing next to the bones of another buck who had died in November 2015, back when my own life was heading deep into the underworld.
The buck gave me some hope. He was young, his antlers velvety. Maybe another sign that my life is finally and fully emerging from that dark, deathly place it was in for so long. One buck left this world, and another has come into it, just beginning his life.
It gave me a little hope, even as I knew I had to face the fact that I might not see my little ones ever again.
I stayed at the farm on Tuesday night - something I don't normally do on a work night. I woke up just before my alarm went off, at 4:30AM. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my alarm to go off at 5. Ten minutes later, I heard hooting.
I knew it was the mother or father owl sitting on the tree just outside the window, as they had done so often just before the babies were born. I couldn't believe it. After almost two weeks, one of them returned! Not one of my babies, but still…it was reassuring to hear one of the adults.
I went on with my day feeling much better, much more hopeful. Maybe I'll see them again. Or maybe the mother owl came to tell me that they were all moved out and happy in their new territories.
At work, a co-worker gave me a birthday present - a pair of owl-shaped earrings. It felt like the owls speaking to me, again, reassuring me.
I don't know if I'll see the little ones again. They might be gone forever, now. But I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. And I hope that the parents - or at least one of them - will stay on at the farm, letting me visit from time to time.
It is just good to know that we have friends out there, somewhere in the wild world, who touched our lives. And maybe we touched theirs, too.