The Ongoing Quest

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Photo by Joan Heffernan

Patience rewards local owl seekers with this Barred owl.

The other day I was talking to a friend about the good old days and the college experience. This was back in the time before social media and cell phones, in fact we didn’t even have a regular phone in our dorm room. And that was freeing if you wanted to have your parents believe that you were studying in the library around the clock. So without texting or calling, much of my time was taken up by looking for my friends. A typical day might involve me coming back to the dorm after class, napping like any college student must do to keep up her strength for the nightlife that ensued. After the shut eye, it would be time to revive myself by playing Jackson Browne on the turntable. That never really did the trick so then I would hightail it to all the logical spots where my fellow botany students might be, complete with their hand lens and plant presses. They were a humorous group with a plethora of pithy remarks, and on any given afternoon they might be holed up in the arboretum, in the basement lounge of our lab building or in one of the ringleader’s rooms. You never really knew where they would congregate, and who would be able to find whom, but the quest occupied hours. On weekends, my roommate and I put great effort in hunting down the right people. So the trek would lead us across campus to several venues where the music was blaring, the floor was sticky, and I could somehow manage to strike up a conversation with that dreamy guard from the basketball team. As time went on, we got better at reading our friends’ minds and predicting where those people of interest might be. Come to think of it, I’m quite sure my grades would have been much better had I not had to devote all those hours to finding my pack.

 This winter, I have embarked upon another quest which I like to call “operation needle in a haystack.” My birding group decided we wanted to see owls so we have spent most of our days trudging around in idyllic places where owls might linger. We count on our memory of spooking a bird a while back when we may have caught a fleeting glimpse, thinking it might have been an owl. So we headed out to all these places and mostly came back with the yearning still building up inside us. We tailored our hikes to early morning and late afternoon, hoping the owls would be active then. And my friends issued me a gag order, demanded we wear moccasins and urged me to leave my Labrador sidekick at home so we could really concentrate on the task at hand. This went on for weeks, and there were peaks and valleys. To keep up my strength I spent many afternoons purchasing slices of chocolate truffle cake at Highland Park Market. There, without fail, someone would come up and casually mention that they had a close encounter with an owl. I tried to act happy for them, but a green volcano of jealousy was about to erupt.

The search continued. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to share the trail with a friend who is a photography enthusiast and a former school librarian. So when she isn’t setting up the perfect shot, she can recite snippets of wonderful children’s literature. One of my favorite children’s books, and one I shared with many first graders, was Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. Her words “Sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t” were repeated by my friend as a “morsel of encouragement.” And, on those freezing cold quiet days, I was reminded that it really is all about the quest. The seeking makes us stronger, more alive. The times we came home without an owl sighting just made the day when we did spot one all the sweeter. 

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