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
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 mass.
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 grainary.
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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