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Tree Child

Story by Ellen Ensley Created 2002-08-06
Page 18 of 19

Chapter 18 - Imprinting

Sushi continued to lengthen his time away from us. He was going back to the wild. It was silly to miss the owl so much, but we both did. The neighbors would call us with sightings. One neighbor swore she saw two identical Barred owls in her back yard. This sighting was dismissed. She didn't understand how quickly Sushi could appear and disappear. She only thought she saw two owls, when there was only one.

It was easy to tell what area of the neighborhood Sushi was visiting because he would be followed by a flock of screaming birds, if they spotted him.
We didn't feed the owl anymore. He was completely self-sufficient. He never came to us begging for food. We were still blessed with his infrequent appearances. Sushi was just as friendly as ever when he visited us.

Late one Saturday evening in the Fall, we went out to the houseboat to gaze at the full moon. It had turned quite chilly, so we went inside the boat and sat by the big glass picture window looking out at the glimmering marsh, and full high tide.
The moon was enormous, and pure harvest gold caught in a net of sparkling stars. It was like ghostly daylight, the moon was so bright. The flood tide was so high you could barely see the tips of the marsh grass. The tidal creeks and intracoastal waterway had all melded together into what looked like an enormous placid lake. The big houseboat was floating, and bumping gently against the pilings.

As we sat in front of the big picture window, talking, Sushi quietly came and landed on the piling in front of the big picture window. He sat there in silence, looking out over the marsh and shimmering water as we were. He turned his head once and gazed at us through the window for a long time with that mysterious, unblinking owl stare. As quickly as he came, he disappeared again, gliding on whispering wings over the glassy black water.

We didn't think much about the owl's appearance. We were used to visits from Sushi, and were always pleased to see him. Sometimes he stayed longer than others.
We continued our conversation. I don't know what made me look up when I did, but there gliding back across the water toward the boat was Sushi. "Steve! Steve! Look! Right behind Sushi, gliding in the moonlight over the twinkling water, was another owl, identical to Sushi.

It wasn't an optical illusion. Our neighbor had seen two owls! Sushi had found a mate. The incredible pair of owls swooped over the water and made a pass right in front of the big bay window, with Sushi in the lead. Then, they flapped silently off into the dark shadows of the pine forest. Sushi had brought his mate right in front of the window on purpose. He wanted us to see his new friend.

We were both ecstatic. Whatever we couldn't teach Sushi, a wild mate could. The mate would help find a nest, teach Sushi new things to eat. Hopefully, as we always dreamed, there would be baby owls in the future. What a gift it was to watch the two owls flying in sync together over the moon-drenched water.

Little did we know, it was the last time we would ever see Sushi.

As happy as I was for the owl, I began to mourn our loss. For a month I walked the property calling "Soooooshi... Soooooooooshi!" But, the owl never came. I sensed the owl was near. But, once Sushi found his mate, he never returned to people again. All of the neighbors sightings stopped at the same time. Steve would give me that LOOK. The look that says, "I know you miss Sushi... so do I." But, he didn't say anything. Grown men don't miss owls.

The next frigid full moon night came. Sushi had been gone a month. Steve had been outside. He came back into the house and said... "Come with me." We walked out in the frosted grass and stood in the shadow of the giant pine forest that borders our property. The moon was enormous. It was clear and cold. There were no clouds hiding the diamonds in the sky. The stars were so bright and close it seemed as if you could pluck one from the heavens. The evening was deathly still. We stood there in silence for a while. Shivering, I wondered why Steve wanted me to come outside. I assumed it was to look at that incredible moon and crystal stars over the tops of the towering pines.
Then, I heard it. Two owls! They were calling back and forth to each other. "Whooo... whoooo... .who-cooks-for-you... whoooo." One call was deep and mellow. The other call was light and melodic. Sushi had finally learned how to hoot! I stood there with tears running my face. Sushi was fine. Sushi was free. Sushi was truly wild.

I made a promise to myself standing there in the white glow of the moonlight. I would never call the owl again. How difficult it must be for Sushi to hear me calling. He had to feel the tug of being with a wild mate, or being with humans. Sushi had made the right choice. I said goodbye to Sushi that night, and wished him luck. I was quite sure he could see me and hear me from his perch high atop the pines. I've never called Sushi again.

All the research on owl behaviour states that it is very bad for owls to imprint on humans, because they will never go back to the wild. What all the research neglected to to say was that humans can imprint on owls, and lose their hearts to these magnificent, mischievous, magical creatures. We had imprinted on Sushi. He will forever be in our hearts.

Maybe, one day in Springtime, I'll walk out to the houseboat and find Sushi perched on Sushi's tree with three really ugly, fluffy owlets. I can dream can't I? Till that day comes when I see Sushi again, I will miss the owl the rest of my life. I only hope someday, someone else will bring me a silver down-feathered ping-pong ball to raise. This time, I'll be a better mommie.

Shortly after saying goodbye to Sushi, we found this wonderful piece of art at Artikles Gallery in Saint Augustine, Florida. The artist, Deborah Kosa, generously gave me permission to reproduce it here.

The caption reads:
"Dark eyes may see before the night
Together they soar before true flight
To see the stars. To feel the moon.
What a gift they have...
may ours come soon... "

The owl with the tear in its eye reminds me of Sushi, torn between his kind and our kind. I'm glad his kind won.

 

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