Hiking for Owls

I’m working away on writing the second novel in the Anne Lamington series, so I have been glued to my desk this week.  For fun I went for a hike with my partner on Sunday.  Our neighbors e-mailed us about a nest in their woods, a very cool sighting, we decided to check it out. 


We took the trail through the nearly-dry riverbed, climbed over boulders and rocks, jumped across puddles of water, and hiked a few miles into the forest.  What we were looking for was a great horned owl nest with two nestlings in it.  When we got close to the waterfall, where the nest was supposed to be, we were perplexed.  Somehow the trail was gone and here we were in the middle of a riverbed wondering what to do. 


Great-Horned-Owl-FlyingJust then the shadow of a giant bird flashed, we looked up.  The female great horned owl had flown right over us.  A four foot wingspan cruising through a densely wooded forest, and she was silent.  Her wings are designed to be silent.  We were jazzed, we must be close. 


Since we had lost the trail, we decided to cross-country up the side of the cliff, for the trail must be up there.  We had been on this trail two years ago and had memories of it; it had to be very close, especially with the sighting of the mother owl. 


We traversed the cliff diagonally, taking each section slowly and sensibly.  We were careful not to put our foot down into a leaf-covered hole to avoid a twisted ankle, only grabbed onto trees that were firmly rooted in the ground, and stayed away from rocks that were loosely positioned.  I guess it was when I had to place my highly-sensitive-to-poison-oak leg into a knee-high patch of poison oak that I realized I was in trouble.  I didn’t panic though, because I just hate panic.  I trekked on. 


About two minutes later I had to let go of a stabilizing 30 inch downed tree trunk to move forward and realized I had nothing to grab onto.  One slip and I would tumble down this rocky cliffside.  I was on a nearly vertical cliff that was damp and crumbling, and I had nothing to hold onto.  Now my legs were shaking too. 


My partner is the photographer in the family, she had 40 pounds of gear on her back.  We had to shimmy under a low tree so I held her pack while she did so, and this was when I had a taste of the weight she was carrying.  We had made our way to the big tree.  We had thought that after we got to this tree we would see the trail.  But there was no trail in sight.  She said, “What do you want to do?” 


I heard my always-be-brave voice reply, “I’m so scared I can’t think.” 


So we spent the next ten minutes climbing back down the way we had come.  That incredibly undignified method of descending steep trails on your rear end came in handy. Back at the bottom of the cliff, I sat down on a mossy rock to get my legs to stop shaking while she left her pack with me and scouted around for the trail. 


The only answer was to go back to the beginning of the trail and try again.  She’s an intrepid photographer.  Of course she would say that.  I’m a novelist, thinking about a line on Downton Abbey that the Dowager said, “The trouble with nature is there’s so much of it.” 


On the way back down we found where we had made our mistake, at a crucial trail fork.  I still had rubber legs, declared I was going back to the trailhead and she could try again on her own, I’d be glad to wait for her.  She agreed and hiked off. 


I went to the trailhead and leaned against a big mossy rock by the creek.  I listened to the water and the wind.  I thought about the sensation I was having of my hair mixing with the rock’s hair.  I didn’t have a book to read so I thought about the book I’m writing and the new beginning I’m doing.  I willed myself to not feel like a failure for not going back. 


Great-Horned-OwletsShe made it back fine, said she thought she got a few good shots.  She found the nest and the two chicks.  That’s what this photo is.  I waited for the inevitable disappointment comments about what she wanted to get but didn’t.  Photographers are like that.  Then she added, “I should have spent the whole day there to get the best shots.” 



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