There’s an owl that lives at the end of my driveway.
Not a Harry Potter magical type owl, just a small midnight predator disgruntled and annoyed by my early morning interruptions. I don’t know exactly what’s inside an owl’s eye, but if he’s on his usual perch, the ghostly gleam shows up from nearly a quarter-mile away. Those eyes shine in my headlights most mornings, far brighter than the expensive roadside reflectors the government buys.
He always looks surprised and waits until I am almost upon him before winging indignantly away. Once he was sitting in the middle of the road, and I had to stop and wait for him to gather up the remains of a mouse he’d killed so he could finish his meal elsewhere. He had the look of a man leaving a waiting room, checking to make sure he had his phone and newspaper.
We live on the fringes of so many different worlds. There is so much going on that we barely notice and probably wouldn’t understand. The midnight world of wild animals is just one example. Where I live, there’s rarely much traffic, and hardly any after midnight and before dawn, so the animals out and about at those times can be excused for feeling I’m a rash intruder. The deer, raccoons, owls, and coyotes move aside reluctantly and resentfully to make way for my pickup, and I can’t help but believe they’re thinking, “What’s he doing here? I’m trying to make a living,” as though I were a telemarketer interrupting dinnertime. The skunks don’t move aside at all, but bustle down the middle of the road and never cast an eye toward oncoming traffic.
Even though this place has been relentlessly domesticated and tamed, left with only faint reminders of what it was like a couple hundred years ago, much of the wildness is barely suppressed. Gardens are mysteriously decimated in the night. Days ago, whitetail deer walked past 1,000 acres of corn to munch on a small patch of my father’s sweet corn, and I caught six raccoons in six nights as they breached security around my chicken and duck pen.
It’s funny how the creatures at the top of the food chain can still feel vaguely besieged. And maybe that’s because we’re the only ones who think we are at the top of the food chain. Maybe to the owls, deer, and raccoons we are just large, smelly, clumsy beasts who always seem to be interfering with their normal workaday lives. Maybe the skunks, with their scornful tails waving as they scuttle down the middle of the road, are expressing what the animal kingdom really thinks. Perhaps all those Disney movies that feature animals discussing mankind with awe and bewilderment are completely wrong. Maybe, while I’m puzzling over the secret lives of the animals, the animals really don’t care at all.
I’ll think about that tomorrow morning, when the night is disturbed by the gleam in an owl’s eyes, and I see the exasperated expression on his face as he shuffles to one side so I can drive by.
Copyright 2013 Brent Olson