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Owling Beneath a Winter's Moon

By Hannah Grinnell


When I was younger I remember my parents reading me the book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, a story about a girl and her father who go owling together one winter’s night. Our Climate Cafe expedition into the woods one January night in search of owls felt very much like that story. Our friend Nancy Pau graciously invited us to her beautiful farm property in West Newbury. It was frigid out to say the least. Definitely a middle of January kind of cold. We all gathered around the campfire, expertly started and tended to by Nancy. The full Wolf Moon was visible, albeit hazy, in the night sky, casting a bright glow across the landscape. We warmed ourselves by the fire’s heat, sipping from cups of steaming hot chocolate. From the top of the hill we could see out to the river and the lights from houses winking across the way.



Around 7 p.m. Carol Decker, our resident owl expert and expedition leader, arrived and we commenced our journey into the forest. The snow was crunching beneath our boots as we tread a path across the field to the treeline. The moment we stopped and paused everything became quiet, almost to the point of silence. There was no wind and the forest stood still as we scanned the sky for owls in flight, a dark silhouette against the bare trees. Carol called out to the forest: “Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you,” a common way of describing the Barred Owl’s hoot. We all listened in earnest for a response, a hoot echoing back from the distance. After receiving nothing but silence and the occasional crunch of snow we continued on, deeper into the woods.



The moon lit our path, illuminating the snowy forest enough for us to find our way. Owls often prefer wetter areas, so we meandered our way to the ridge where we gazed out at the stream weaving through the trees. I could see my breath in the cold air as we all gazed up into the tall pine trees. Again, Carol called to the owls. Nothing but a dog barking from a nearby neighborhood. Finally, just as we were about to start trudging back, the sound of a hoot reverberated through the forest: a Great-Horned Owl, answering the call. We all stood in silent rapture, listening to that magical sound. Eventually, we began making our way back to the fire, continuing to pause momentarily in hopes of hearing something more. We stopped in our tracks when another call arose in the silence, this time a Barred Owl calling to us. It became a symphony of sorts of owl calls, between Carol calling out and the owl responding back.


At last we emerged from the woods, a little colder than when we entered, but still thrilled by what we’d heard. Our efforts had been rewarded, the trek through the January cold had not been in vain. The echoes of the owl calls still imprinted in our minds and a chill in our bones, it was a satisfying evening.



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