Revived by food and rest, he left the
safety of the barn. He was alone, and a stranger in a foreign
land. The big Snowy Owl turned soundlessly into the wind, and
soared upward on the thermal, ever observant.
The high mountain currents changed morning and evening, consistent enough
to be used as a clock for the resident wildlife. Time to curl up and sleep in a
sheltered break, or to wake and find breakfast. Natures alarm clock has no ringing
bell, just a shift of wind on a feather or whisker.
Winter had come early. Foothill roads, branching from the traveled highway in
the valley, remained unplowed. Cattle had long since been trailed to home ground.
Draft horses and rubber-tired wagons hauled timothy hay and alfalfa to them twice
Snowy made a mental note, voles and mice would use the feeding ground to
find vagrant seeds fallen from the bales. His new world widened with each wing
beat. Winter would be long. He was hundreds of
miles south of his normal winter home.
Fierce fall storms roaring down from his
summer Arctic home pushed him far from the
craggy Canadian Rockies. He found his winter
home in the Montana Crazy Mountains by chance. A
violent blizzard triggered by the cold front
drove him further south. Visibility was
gone. Winds and snow blowing sideways
disoriented him. After days of struggle to regain
his grasp of reality he found shelter under the eves of a barn.
He could barely walk up the high drifted bank on fat feathered feet, natures
own snowshoes. His strong wings were too encrusted with ice to fly. There, under
the eve of the barn, out of the wind and protected from the whirling snow, he took
He was stiff and cold, but everything seemed to work. "I suppose this is a good
as day to die as any," he thought. Hoping he would thaw out enough to be able to
hunt, he fluffed his feathers as best he could, and scrunched his body into a tight
When he woke, the sun had warmed the roof of the barn above him. He sniffed
the air and saw mist evaporating from the edge of the protecting eaves. Soon the
bright sun reflecting from the snow illuminated his new domain. Opening his beak,
he yawned, and was surprised to see his breath freezing into droplets. Nothing in
the barnyard below moved. There were no animals. Or humans. A double fence row
indicated a road. He marked it on his mental radar as a place to avoid.
Scanning the sky, he saw no movement. No enemy. His desire for warmth
became unbearable. And his hiding place was vulnerable. A coyote might walk up
the same drift he had. It took a great deal of effort, but he laboriously climbed to
the steep roof and with a short burst of desire perched on the cupola. With pure
white feathers, he sat in broad daylight, nearly invisible against the snow. Except
for his yellow eyes.
This new perch gave him an unobstructed view of the valley below. The bench,
and the mountain cliffs above were all within his vision. He became more alert at
sighting the cliffs. Peregrine Falcons live in such places. He was certainly larger,
but their speed and ferocity could be his undoing. He had the advantage. Falcons
don't fly at night. It would be wise to avoid their territory at dusk 'tho.
A high-pitched noise caught his attention, far off at first, then drawing near,
and finally passing by. The bitter cold intensified the sound, the squeal of sleigh
runners against snow. As he watched, the horse and sleigh slid to a stop at the old
stone farm house across the gully.
The occupant dismounted and walked toward the house. No other movement or
sound caught his attention. He was almost asleep in the warming sunshine when
the door of the house opened again. Several people came out, bundled against the
cold. Sounds from their talk and laughter echoed back across the gully.
He thought about flying off, but no one appeared to notice him. It may have not
been the safest decision, but his wings were finally dry, and he began to arrange
Even as he preened, he watched the tableau below. A tiny black spot streaked
across the snow and up a fence pole. Then revealed itself as the very tip of a white
tail. The ermine stretched out in the sun too. It would have made a meal, but the
rail fence was right beside the farm house. He wasn't sure his wings would even
carry him that far.
Watching the ermine bask, he slowly noticed other signs of life. The gully was
marked with vole runs. Voles run along just beneath the surface of the snow, and
their runs are visible as long, straight tiny mounds of snow running back and forth,
intersecting like spider webs. Intense sunlight in its low arc, caused the tiny
mounds to cast shadows making them even more visible.
A shiver of relief swept through his total being. He had a food supply.
He woke, surprised that he had fallen asleep again. Sleeping during the day
was usual, but he had been observing his world in preparation for a hunting
excursion. He would have to eat and soon. Instead he had fallen asleep. The
change of wind woke him; wind coming back down the mountains. The day, what he
remembered of it, had been clear with opal blue skies. It was almost dusk, and with
a bright moon night would be very cold.
He could not remain on the cupola roof forever. Tentatively stretching his
wings, he hopped down to the main roof of the barn. Looking around, he saw two
openings in the cupola. Very carefully he peered inside. There was nothing
threatening. The barn was dry and neat with one young steer munching away. A
bare bulb glowed next to the granary door. He could smell water too.
And the sharp acidic odor of. . .mice! As he watched,
one, then two, then several skittered across the floor of
the barn. A little knothole at floor level was their main
street leading into - and out of - the granary.
Carefully he tested his wings. The soft wings did not
alarm the steer. The steer did not alarm the mice. And he
dined in the comfort of the snug barn. After a brief rest
and he decided to try a short flight to reconnoiter the
Grateful to have shelter and food, his spirits soared with him on the thermals.
Both the valley highway and tiny town were quiet. Cars were parked. No people
were about. Everything was still. Suddenly his sharp ears picked up a new sound. It
was almost like the laughter he heard earlier the same day.
He angled his wings to carry him downward, closer. A full moon was rising, and
its light reflected off a shiny spot on another roof. He was almost caught up in the
music rising from the building when he thought to check his bearings. His safe
haven was still visible up on the bench some six miles off. He landed silently at the
base of the metal cross on the belfry.
Head cocked, he listened intently. The melody grew
louder and engulfed him. Within his breast he joined in. He
knew the song. It was joy!
"Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive
her king. Let every heart prepare Him room; And heav'n
and nature sing, and heav'n and nature sing . . ." ~ The LadyFisher
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