Singing with Owls

The images for this post were taken at night in Nichols Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago (photo credit: Dr. Thomas Oord). For years, I lived in an apartment that overlooked this very spot. But, I never would have seen it like this, not at night. My backyard was simply unavailable after the twilight faded.

The photo evoked a lament for a world-not-yet here. It’s a world where urban nature does not have to be a dawn to dusk affair. It’s a world where we city dwellers can get to know Chicago nature nightlife, like its seven bat species (the big brown bat, little brown bat, silver-haired bat, eastern red bat, hoary bat, evening bat, and tri-colored bat) and owls and snakes and spiders. It’s a world where city folks are free to wander the urban forest at night.

Now, personally, I wouldn’t miss the bats so much. They are the one creature that elicits primal fear in me. It’s not rational. I love the idea of bats, but when I see them, I run for cover. I have been know to duck under a patio table or try to crawl under a car. I’ll catch cockroaches and spiders, shoo mice and honeybees, but bats? No. Thank. You.

But, I’m trying to change my ways because I know the sacred shines in them, too, and my spirit shrinks when fear is the obstacle to connection with that light.

Part of my recovery plan has been children’s literature. Recently, we have been reading a bedtime story called, Nightsong, by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long. It’s about a young bat’s first solo flight out into the night to catch a meal of insects at the pond. It’s dark, the little bat is scared, but he is encouraged to use his good sense to see – even when his eyes and his fears get in the way.

The little bat asks, “What is sense?” Here, sense is the poetic ability to use echolocation to forage for food and locate objects in the dark, but it is so much more.

What is sense? “Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you will see.”

Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you will see.

At Sand Ridge Nature Center, there are two large outdoor cages with rescued animals living inside. On our visit, we saw a beautiful Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). There she sat on her perch, intently watching us with big yellow eyes and listening with her head pivoting in that unique owl way. Which, we learned is a mere 270 degrees rather than a complete circle.

There she was, another creature of the night whom we had missed. Not surprisingly, kids and adults took the opportunity to sing our who-hooing hoots to this new friend.

The surprise and delight was her who-hoo song in return. We would sing, and she sang back.

“Sense is the song you sing out into the world and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you will see.”

My older kiddo saw her and replied, “Mama, I speak owl!” We sang. The owl sung. We listened and sung back, and so did she. Was my kiddo speaking owl or had the owl learned to speak human?

Either way, the song and the singing helped us see into a world that is usually off-limits, misrepresented, ignored, feared, or worse. It opened up my favorite question: What if? What if nocturnal animals and plants and insects were included in the chorus of voices that sing to us in the city? What would we hear? What if we could sing back?

“Who-hoo” else are we missing?

Nichols Park (Thomas Oord)


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