Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 4, 2004)
Her name is simply, Wilderness
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Barred Owl
There is this place I can go. A dear friend shares this natural wealth with me whenever I need to retreat from society, to write, paint or just sit in the boathouse and watch the sun set upon calm lake waters. Surrounded by acres and acres of incredible wild beauty, it was quiet and peaceful.

Splendid wild things also call this land home, as raccoons scrap with each other at dawn and armadillos scuttle one after another, back and forth over well worn paths. Deer tracks can be seen left behind in the moist soil after early morning foraging, as well as Black Bear and Bobcat. Alligators glide-out staking their claim to water territories, as a couple of Swallowtail-Kites rule the cattail stands. Song birds fill the upper canopy of tall sand pines and live oaks with chirps and melodies during the day, but a Great-Horned Owl and a Barred Owl soundlessly dominate the nights.

This land is old and for the most part untouched by human hands. The cabin is rustic, unobtrusive with large windows on all four sides allowing cooling, fresh breezes to rush in and out as if a silk scarf was being pulled between a woman’s loving hands. This cabin doesn’t brace against nature – it embraces her with open arms. She is and has been a refuge to many. She is rustic. She is blended with her surroundings. Her name is simply, Wilderness.

One evening we watched the storms rolling in closer as thunderheads built up high in the sky. A small patch tore in the center of the clouds just briefly enough to show a peek of pink and tangerine sky. As the lake waters became increasingly choppy my loving companion and I resolved to head for the shelter of Wilderness.

Lightning tore through the night followed by crashing slams and cracks of thunder as the rain on the tin roof lulled us to sleep. In the morning, I peeked out the second story windows to see if there was any damage and discovered a Barred-Owl crouching on a low branch.

A heavy fog filled every empty space of the forest backlighting the Barred Owl in soft, gentle grays. We watched for some time until she swooped to the forest floor apparently in search of breakfast. After our own breakfast we decided to take our morning walk.

The thick layer of fog refused to be stirred by the heat of the approaching day. The forest was silent. Prism droplets dangled from even the tiniest leaves and branches. Beaded spider webs hung in strands from tree to tree. Dampened dragonflies flew on glistening wings while a Pileated-Woodpecker hammered a drum song in the top of a tall tree.

As we walked deeper into the forest we recognized a familiar shape upon a high branch. There above us was the Barred Owl we’d spotted earlier this morning. She allowed us to quietly shift back and forth, while we averted our eyes, looking down so as not to disturb her, only looking up momentarily with cameras to immortalize her in captured beauty on film.

This beautiful owl is not uncommon to this kind of habitat. The Barred Owl prefers swamps and moist woodlands. Her primary source of food is mice but she also eats small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other birds. She will often make her nest in the abandoned nest holes of the Pileated-Woodpecker where the female Barred Owl lays two to three eggs on the bare wood chips that are found in the hole. Incubation takes about 28 days. The young owlets are blind for the first week of their lives but begin to resemble their parents by their third week.

The 18- to 25-inch Barred Owl has a stocky build, large, round head and dark eyes. Their coloration is grayish-brown with wide barred collar and on upper chest and barring and streaking below and on their belly, reason for the name, Barred Owl. The Barred Owls distinctive call is a series of loud rhythmic hoots: Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all.

The Great-Horned Owl is the natural enemy to the Barred Owl but in this wilderness they seem to coexist in peaceful accord as is this forest. There is this place I can go. It is quiet and peaceful here. Her name is simply, Wilderness.

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