Monday, April 4, 2011

of children's books and nightlife

our nursery is on the back of our house, with windows overlooking the backyard and woods behind it. one of my sweetest memories of the many, many hours i spent nursing luke during the night in that room is the pair of owls that lived in our woods. every night, without fail, i would hear them calling back and forth to each other, their calls absolutely distinctive and always, always the same: one a higher-pitched "who-who-who...whoo whoo" and the response a deeper "whoo...whoo-whoo." i don't know much about owls, but what i think i know is that many species mate for life. and whether each owl's call is unique or not i can't easily find out by googling (i just tried, of course), but i do not doubt that i was hearing the same two owls every night.

i imagined many things about those owls, soothed as i was by their familiar, predictable, mournful nightly conversations. i did not doubt that they were an old couple, probably living there in those woods long before luke's nocturnal feedings began coinciding with their mundane nightlife. i remember wondering whether their calls continued--i'm sure they did--long after luke and i no longer spent those quiet hours together in the rocking chair.

it was appropriate, then, that one of luke's favorite books was owl babies, by martin waddell. do you know the one?


lover of children's books that i am, i'll confess that i have many favorites, but this one is near the top of the list, perhaps as much for the happy memories i have of luke's recitation of the youngest owl's repeated line, 'I want my mommy!' said Bill, repeated enthusiastically in a silly little developing southern drawl, as i do for the sweet storyline. it's a story of three owl babies--sarah and percy and bill--who discover that their mommy owl is missing. while sarah and percy attempt to reason out where she might be or how soon she'll come back, bill can only repeat again and again that he wants his mommy. spoiler alert: of course, the mommy owl does come back (and they flapped and they danced and they bounced up and down on their branch), with food to eat--what good mommy wouldn't?--and the baby owls are delighted, perhaps most of all little bill, whose line finally changes: 'I love my mommy!' said Bill.

anastasia and i sit in that same room now, and i spend those hours gazing on the bookshelf across the room, bursting with all those books i read (and read and read and read) to luke, reciting the favorite lines in my head, chomping at the bit to begin reading them to anastasia. i can't wait to hear luke read owl babies to his sister, and i wonder if his said Bill will still have the little drawl it had when he was a toddler. just the other night, as anastasia and i rocked quietly in that chair, i heard--even through the still-closed windows--an owl call in the woods. it was the same call i listened to seven and a half years ago in that same spot, the higher-pitched, longer call. and i waited for the deeper, shorter response, but it never came. the one owl repeated its call, again and again, the night empty of its partner's answer.

and in that moment, the story changed in my head: maybe, just maybe, those two owls were not a mated pair at all, but a brother and sister. and each night since, as i've listened to that single owl's call, i've missed the answer more and more.

1 comment:

me said...

My niece learned to say "whoo whoo" from this book before she said anything else! And this post is almost eery, and tender, and sweet. I think it's poignant how stories, nature, bird calls, etc. change in meaning as our life changes.