I never knew they were there. When I heard their voices for the first time last week, it reinforced my inclination toward mystery, a feeling that infinite layers, like gossamer veils, lie waiting for us to behold when a breeze lifts the corner of some new revelation. How many times have I walked the gravel road between house and gate? There are times when I thought it was boring, that near half-mile stretch of a leg, scraggly with the remains of a planted pine plantation that was planted too densely fifty years ago and left to be overrun with competing hardwoods, yaupon, magnolia and thick, Tarzan-worthy vines. And yet, even the predictable seasonal changes have a magical quality, when dead-looking sticks come alive, lush with green leaves, indigo and scarlet berries, the air exhales sweet honeysuckle, and the ever-present ants are building, always building.
I stepped onto the low dam on the northeast side of the gravel road where the spring head that makes up the wandering stream is located. Water there is contained within a rough free-form circle. Partially submerged tree limbs and branches slowly decompose in the dark water. A carpet of leaves forms a fecund liner at the bottom. We have had no winter at all this year, so I was wary of snakes as I hunkered down in my running shorts and tank top to peer over into the dark water. I wanted to take off my shoes, get in there and clean out all the dead wood, but good sense prevailed for the moment, and instead I stretched out as far as I could and removed several of the closest branches. You can see some of them stacked on the dam in the photo above. The green shoots in the foreground are Louisiana Irises that are coming up much earlier than usual this year. If the weather stays warm, soon they will be blooming purple and yellow orchid-like flowers.
Buck cut vines and thorn bushes on the southeast side of the streambed just across the narrow gravel road while I pulled limbs from the inky pool. Just as we joined back up in the middle of road, breathing hard, with twigs in our hair and scratches on our arms and legs, a loud accoustical sound filled the hollow. I thought at first it was a pack of dogs or coyotes, but my mind quickly processed the sound and decided: owls. The sound emanated from the far side of the dark pool, the spring-head. They flew, and the sound gradually grew more faint.
When we got back to the house, I went to Cornell University’s site, All About Birds, to see if I could confirm that the sound was made by owls, and which specie. As soon as I heard the audio, there was no doubt: we have Barred Owls. When I learned they like to live in hollowed-out trees or holes in old branches, I remembered a photo I had taken near the spring-head in 2004. I called it “Den and Cavity Tree,” but didn’t know what might live there.
The video below, created by youtube user srcampsite recreates the exact sounds we heard.
- border:the official line that divides one area of land from another
- limit: the point at which something ends or beyond which it becomes something else
I’m not crazy about the idea of sanctioning Microsoft’s “Bing” search engine as a legitimate dictionary, but that aside, when I searched for “boundary” and was served up the above entry first on the list, I knew at once that their inclusion of “limit: the point at which something ends or beyond which it becomes something else” was precisely the thought I had in mind, so I’ve picked up the stone from the road and won’t fret about its provenance.
I would love to see one of the owls, but they may be raising babies at this time of year, so I won’t be trespassing again anytime soon.