Last October while walking my loyal yellow lab in the early dawn of morning, I saw something in an old maple tree in my neighborhood. At first it seemed like a simple jagged piece of the tree. Upon closer inspection, my suspicion was correct. Supremely camouflaged in the nook was an eastern screech-owl.
I have always thought owls are cool. Especially seeing one in my neighborhood. Since then, I have made it a habit to keep walking by this tree every morning and evening to check in on him/her. Sure enough, he is there chilling like a statue.
I often wonder why I have such an interest in seeing an owl, or hawk for that matter. Yes, as my wife and kids can attest, I point out every red-tailed hawk I see on a fence post while driving on the highway. I am the guy who stopped on the sidewalk on 16th Street in DC at rush hour to watch – in wonder – a hawk sweep down from a light post, take out a rat, fly back up to the light post, and then proceed to tear into the rat….all the while the people or ants marching past me didn’t even stop to look. I am the guy who pointed out a pair of screaming peregrine falcons circling around a tall building in Ann Arbor to people walking by. I am that guy…the bird nerd.
How did this happen?
I guess I can trace my interest back when I was a kid growing up in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. I would spend a lot of my free time playing in the woods and creeks that were adjacent to my neighborhood. Lifting up rocks in the creeks to find crayfish to use as bait for catching bass, or simply building forts with my friends. Real close to my house was the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail (W/O trail). Along this trail rested great open meadows and tracks of forests that were perfect homes for all kinds of birds, including hawks and owls.
Since Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet, I was forced to find out more about birds through books. I remember telling my Mom that I wanted a bird book for my birthday. Not just any bird book would do, mind you. I told her it had to be Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Birds of the World. Mom came through.
As a 10 year old, I used this book to study all the birds and got to know their habitat and what they ate, etc. I lugged this book around on my huffy dirt bike, in my backpack, to the fields along the W/O Trail. I would use my Dad’s awesome Bushnell binoculars to sit and scan the trees for hawks and owls – or whatever moved. Upon seeing a bird, I would quickly flip through the pages to see what it was I just saw. Sometimes my friends would join me…sometimes I was alone. Again, bird nerd.
Those were great times.
Those experiences – in the woods fishing and watching wildlife – were the foundation of my connection with the outdoors. They helped me establish my conservation ethic.
I am proud to say that 30 years later, I still own this book. It’s a little ragged – but in good shape. Just the other day, I saw my almost 9 year old son Patrick glancing through this book. It made me smile. Maybe he will be inspired by it…just as I was.
So, the next time you see an owl or hawk…stop, look and wonder. I still do…and so do my kids.