When you go owling…

In all honesty, Molly and I don’t know the first thing about owling. Once, we accidentally treed a porcupine and effectively pinned ourselves on the path that led underneath it, but we’ve never coolly shined a flashlight on an owl in the night sky.
Of course, that doesn’t stop us from trying.
I’m not sure who was more excited this weekend in anticipation of our latest attempt — Molly, me, or my little niece Erin, who is just five years old, the perfect age for owling.
When you go owling, you have to be brave.
We began the outing with a ceremonial reading of one of the best children’s books ever written, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Bundled up in her pink and purple snow gear, Erin looked exactly like the little girl Ms. Yolen describes.
Then, Molly, Erin, my sister Jenny (Erin’s Mom), Katherine, Vince and I headed out under a sky that held a thousand stars…but no moon.
We trampled through the soy bean field adjacent to our cabin and turned right to make our way into the woods.
One perfect cabin night last summer we all sat around a camp fire under a similar night sky and listened to coyotes howl. I thought about that as we made our way deeper into the woods…and then I quietly asked Katherine if she had remembered to bring her pepper spray. A confirmed urban dweller, she answered with a quick chin nod and confident pat of her right front pocket.
We followed turkey tracks past tall pine trees and empty blackberry bushes and each of us hooted as the book suggests.
I’m pretty sure I heard a hidden turkey snicker at us as we hooted and crunched along.
When you go owling you don’t need words, or warm or anything but hope.
We did not see an owl Saturday night even though we know at least one stubborn owl lives there. We can hear him hooting in the evening and, one day, he landed on the dirt road that leads through our woods and refused to budge even though Vince, who was driving through, honked at him.
We didn’t even see a moon.
But we breathed some of the cleanest air we remember, we saw constellations we had only read about and, in Erin’s giant blue eyes, we saw hope that we’ll spend another crisp, winter evening searching the woods for an elusive owl.
We’re big fans of hope, the hope that flies on silent wings under a shining Owl Moon.

Katherine reads Owl Moon in preparation for our adventure.
Molly and Erin head out.
And their giant shadows precede them.
After Erin and Jenny head back to the cabin,
Katherine treats us to her famous Blair Witch Project rendition.
Resting up after our adventure. She’s a cuddly one.
Here’s the porcupine Molly and I ran into last summer. Even though
Molly calmly assured me that porcupines don’t throw their quills, neither
one of us wanted to walk underneath it. Like any self respecting
adventurer, I whipped out my cellphone and summoned help.
We love Jane Yolen. She autographed this
book for Charlie in 1991 and, when Molly
emailed her a few years ago, she wrote back to
Molly the same day.

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