Eastern screech-owl

Last night, my partner and I received a mysterious and memorable visitation. With the sun setting behind the Church of Our Lady, we walked down the hill to The Boathouse for ice cream. It was an immaculate spring evening. Sitting at a picnic table eating our treat, we gazed over the shining, shadowy river where ducks and geese restlessly approached roosting time. Across the river, verdant lacework had begun to spread across the veil of willow bows.

I wanted to stroll under those trees. Finishing our snack, we crossed Gordon Street bridge and followed the worn footpath through the darkling woods. When soggy soil dissuaded us from going further, we turned instead to stand and survey the city. Streetlights and glowing sky reflected in the water, enclosed like a stained glass window by willow branch leading.  A new moon winked and tiny bats fluttered past the panes.

The corner of my eye caught another movement nearby. I took my partner’s shoulders and turned him, pointing and whispering. A gnome-like figure perched not far away, craning its neck to see us. With a soft, puzzled bark it launched on soundless wings to edge closer. From one branch to another it came, until it sat not five metres directly overhead. Then, with one quiet hoot it flew a little further off. At last the falling light illuminated its silhouette, a ghostly pale, rounded face and silver-grey streaked breast.

A few times in my life I have heard the eerie whinny of an Eastern screech-owl. Sometimes they would haunt the trees behind the house where I grew up and sit motionlessly against the moonlit sky of a Lake Erie night. But last night was the closest encounter I have ever had with a wild owl.

Eventually it drifted into the darkness. We could see it flying here and there in the dim distance on errands or reconnaissance through its woodland property, but it paid us no further heed.

I wept with happiness. I am not naive enough to think the owl spared us any sentiment. Its approach implied at best curiosity, more likely mild umbrage at our trespass. Whatever it thought, we received its visit as a soulful gift. Nature repeats itself endlessly, seldom changing drastically, especially in the heart of the city. You have to be in the right place at the time, faithfully, patiently present and aware. Sometimes you might cross the path of breathless beauty.

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