Earthworms’ Castings

by Jean Ponzi


Bless & Release


Trina called with a special request for our friends known as The Teachers, on the morning of the big Summer Party at their rambling country place.

A born naturalist, she phoned from the World Bird Sanctuary, where she’s a multi-talented young staffer. “An orphaned Barred Owl we raised here is ready to be returned to the wild,“ Trina said. “May I bring him out today and release him at your place, please?”

Host Laura (Trina’s 6th grade teacher) replied, “Absolutely – thank you!”

Trina and the owl arrived in pickup truck and traveling crate. The owl retired into the cool, dark solitude of Laura’s closet, and Trina trotted down to the lake with pals to enjoy some sun-dappled fishing.

Guests flocked in from across Missouri and beyond. Word flew about the Owl Release, through hugs and conversation, toasts and nibbles, throughout the festive day.

About seven o’clock, just before potluck dinner and a little longer before the neighborhood’s mature owls came out for the evening, I helped Laura gather our friends to the hillside above the lake as Trina and her special friend emerged from the closet.

Safely clasping its sharp talons in her heavy yellow leather gloves, Trina hugged the young owl to her body, in a gentle restraining position she called “the cast.” They looked to me like a mother toting her baby in one of those front-facing slings. But my anthropomorphic musing, and all side-talk, ceased when Trina addressed the crowd.

“This guy was a ‘brancher’ when he came to us,” she explained. “That’s the stage when baby birds are too big to stay in the nest but still too young to fly, so they start walking along the branches. But they’re kind of clumsy and they often fall out of their nesting tree. The parents will be watching – but the young bird needs to work his way back up!”

And that, she said, is when a well-meaning person who finds a fledgling on the ground assumes he needs help. She told us that people who find a baby bird should usually let it be, and shared what to check and what to do if the bird is in danger, directions she noted are all on the World Bird Sanctuary website. Trina said that parents will search for a missing owlet for up to three weeks, wasting a lot of energy they need to survive, and to raise any remaining young.

Trina’s skillful, spontaneous lecture sent an excited current through the crescent of attentive folks. Watching us with dark-eyed intensity, our feathered focus seemed perfectly calm.

“We don’t know if he was really an orphan,” she explained, “but once he came to us, since he wasn’t injured, we raised him with some other young owls in our rehab area, then in a flight cage, to the point where he can make it out on his own.”

Laura stepped forward and said to the owl, “Now we have a song for you.”

It was easy for everyone to join the song I brought to this party years ago, learned at an environmental educators’ conference, and inspired by Jane Yolen’s classic picture book, a father-daughter snowy night adventure tale, Owl Moon.

Oh, you’ve got to be quiet . . .

Under the shining Owl Moon

Gotta make your own heat!

Under the shining Owl Moon

And you’ve got to be BRAVE

Under the shining,

Under the shining,

Under the shining Owl Moon

This is a song you sign as you sing, so motion and music floated and twined around Trina and the owl, verse after verse of blessing for a small brown wild being.

‘It’s time to release him!” Trina cried, hunkering down to boost the young bird’s flying power. Everyone held our breath as – one, two, THREE! They shot up together, her arms flung high, his striped wings beating air and rising, rising.

His first short flight took him well up into a nearby oak. He hopped from branch to higher branch, peering down into our shining eyes and clicking cameras. He stayed a few moments in the leafy shade, evaluating a new environment.

Trina, grown to be a teacher in her own right, watched in proud, bittersweet silence.

Then he sailed out over the lake, into the woods and his owl life, beyond a circle of humans who cheered as he flew, hoping we would hear him calling one night soon, through the shining summer moonlight.

Jean Ponzi hosts the enviro-talk show “Earthworms” Mondays, 7-8 p.m. on FM-88 KDHX; catch an archived edition at www.kdhx.org. Learn more about owls and other birds of prey, and support outstanding work, at www.worldbirdsanctuary.org. Watch the Owl Release! link text to: http://youtu.be/0KG-qbFEGqs.

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One Response to “Earthworms’ Castings”

  1. nice post. was good to read