Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WOL [Great-Horned Owl]

The grey blob mid-branches is the owl.
When grandson and I went on owl watch in the early evening, owl had moved out of the dense foliage and onto a bare branch. I hurried out, camera swinging from my wrist hoping for a better look at the Mallards who had appeared on the pond, and then spotted the dumpy oval owl-shape in full view. Daughter's cat, Tarbaby, [who has been demonstrating suicidal behaviors] was stalking the ducks, creeping through the long grass on the edge of the pond. From his branch the owl appeared interested in the possiblity of cat as snack.

Easy to see why "owlish" is not usually a complimentary term.

This feather, from the owl's front, was lying on the tangled grass under the owl's perch. It is incredibly soft and downy. I looked for others and for an owl pellet. Grandson found one last year, freshly hoiked up. Such treasures seldom appear when I deliberately look. They are there, waiting to be suddenly noticed before the wind whisks them away or tromping boots crush them.

Dusk and the first chill of evening coming in over the pond. When I looked up again, the owl had gone; silent wings, gleaming nocturnal eyes, deadly beak and grasping talons.
How do they say "OWL" where you live? I defy anyone speaking any regional form of English to get that word out in one syllable! Three letters, yet an unwieldy mouthful to manage. New Englanders torture the word with various nuances: "ah-wul"; "aaawwl" [a sound such as one involuntarily makes when a tongue depressor is being employed.] "ouw-wul." If you bring to mind Eliza Doolittle singing out her vowels for Prof. Higgins, you have a number of options.
Our grandson when he was about three, came up with an alternative that has become a family tradition: "agle." [Think "angle" with the "n" missing!]
I once had an enjoyable reciprocal conversation with a great horned owl. It was early autumn in Vermont, leaves not yet parted from the hardwoods, but a fine temperature for an afternoon walk. We were home from church, lunch eaten. I sought companions but neither husband or our two teenagers were of a mind to stroll through the pasture and across the brook.
Crossing the slender ripple of the Lemon Fair, I stopped to crush a snippet of wild mint and watch the kildeers running over the rough ground, uttering their name-cry. I hopped from one grass-tufted hump of dirt to another--the place we always referred to as "the bog", the spongy ground cut and molded by the feet of my grandfather's cattle, plodding toward the cool shade of the woods and then back to wait at the pasture gate for milking.
To the left, a line fence and rutted wagon tracks leading over a little knoll, down through a wooded hollow and on to the now-collapsed sugar house. I surged through an ever-spreading stand of prickly ash to the circle of shag-bark hickory, stood with planted feet and head craned to evaluate a possible crop of hickory nuts. I recalled nut gathering afternoons with my grandfather, the team of work horses standing patiently hitched to the wagon while we rustled through fallen leaves for pale nuts, some still cupped in greeny-brown hulls. We dropped the nuts into small battered buckets which grandpa emptied into burlap grain sacks.
As I stood there in the green, leaf-strewn circle, a sudden owl-call came from a branch midway up a hickory. "Whoo-whoo whoo-whooo!" "Whoo to you, too!" I said crossly, startled. The owl obligingly replied. Intrigued, I stood there hooting and the owl answered in hollow booming tones. We carried on this way for perhaps half an hour before the owl shrugged and floated off toward the neighbor's farm. I scrambled over a rocky hillside, scraped through more prickly ash in hopeful pursuit, but the encounter was done.
After endless attempts to photograph our resident owl yesterday, I pulled out a copy of Winnie the Pooh and reacquainted myself with the "owl" of E. H. Shepard's illustrations which conjure memorable creatures from the words of A. A. Milne.
At wikipedia I found this bit. It made my day.
"Wol is a Kentish and Sussex dialect word for Owl,[1] which Milne would have been familiar with, living on a farm at Hartfield at the time he was writing Winnie the Pooh."


  1. I love finding unexpected creatures lurking around. Our latest was a big fat possum. My son's latest, (where the hawk was found) is possible mountain lion spray along the wall of his house near where the (indoor) cats sleep. There have been mountain lion sightings close by, so he is taking more care when going into the back yard!
    My father was born in Kent. Also, we grew up with Christopher Robin rather than Winnie the Pooh. I have no idea why Pooh was overlooked.

  2. My childhood was - sadly - free frm wols, pooh bears, Christopher Robins and Eeyores and Piglets . . . Not until I had children of my own did I discover the delights.

    As a Hampshire Hog, I would pronounce Owl as that - a short clipped-vowelled word with the emphasis rather on the Ow and a soft l at the end. What lovely photos of a beautiful, if dangerous-to-cats, bird.

    I found a broken owl pellet when Keith and I were at Carew Castle recently so certain Owls - probably Tawny's, though, since it is a castle with hideaways, it could be a Barn Owl, something of a rarity these days.

    I loved your writing about your owl-conversations - your prose brings the occasion vividly to life. My poor brain is stuffed at the moment, hence random postings as I just can't think straight, let alone write anything the least bit descriptive.

  3. Chris: there are mountain lions in our region also. In June our quilting group was invited for the monthly meeting to the home of one of the quilters--out of town on a dirt road on the "North Fork" of the Popo Agie River. I remarked on her pretty flower borders and wailed about our resident deer who eat everything in sight. She replied that they have no deer problems due to the mountain lions which patrol, sometimes coming to "pee" at the edges of their porch. Mountain lions are also spotted outof town headed toward South Pass.
    BB: The "Pooh" books are some of the first I recall being read to me. They almost need to be spoken aloud for the best effect. I can't seem to memorize a whole chunk of poetry, but bits of Milne come to mind to be chanted on occasion.
    I beleive my pronunciation of "owl" is like yours. My daughter gives it the typical Vermonter's two syllables.
    I enjoy your posts even when you feel they are "random." A bit of creative writing helps me keep sane with all that's been going on here!

  4. What wonderfully descriptive prose you write.
    I read it last night but was too tired to comment. I lay in bed trying to work out the different ways of saying 'owl' ...it was better than counting sheep lol. I say it as though I was hurt ... with a soft 'l'to follow ... as though I was about to say lulaby.

    I knew you would get some great photos to share with us all and it must be great having your grandson around to help.

  5. Wow! I worry about the puppies going out back late evening even though they are in a fenced area!

  6. Hullo MM,
    Thats a really nice vision of a time past and one of those occasions, just collecting some nuts, that seem so ordinary at the time yet so precious in hindsight.

    The owl conversation is a hoot by the way. { Sorry - 'all good pun'! }

    Jings! Owls 'n kildeers,{what ARE they by the way?} piglets and possums, cats and dogs. Its a right old menagerie of a post and comments isn't it?

    Dont tell anyone but the lovely G often calls me 'Pooh'. I think its because there is a certain similarity in shape { and brain size}

    Must go. I fancy some hunny.....


  7. Hullo,
    Me again. Meant to say thanks so much for signing up to follow ma wee blog.

    See what she means about similarities with a certain bear shaped character.......Nay ICON. Ha!


  8. As Pooh might have said, "Oh bother!" I hit the wrong thing and my comment went away.
    Al, You are lots of fun. I daresay we are all going a bit Pooh-shaped with middle age. Not to worry as long as the brain doesn't collect too much fluff!
    My late teacher-mother was fond of telling us to "look it up" when we had a question. Wikipedia has an article re kildeers and a nice photo which I don't know how to paste right here.
    Kildeers are widely spread--familiar in my New England childhood and here in the interior west. They run about on long legs saying, "deer, deer, deer," in a rather distracted way.
    "The killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is a medium-sized plover. Adults have a brown back and wings, a white belly, and a white breast with two black bands. The rump is tawny orange. The face and cap are brown with a white forehead. They have an orange-red eyering. The chicks are patterned almost identically to the adults, and are precocial — able to move around right after hatching. The killdeer frequently uses a "broken wing act" to distract predators from the nest."