Searching for cool t-shirts before Christmas—a favorite gift in our family—I stumbled upon a site which sold graphic work of all sorts which was created by many different artists. It’s sort of internet coop , one where a person with talent can realize some profit.
One afternoon when I should have been doing anything other than paging their catalog , I came upon a t-shirt which brought me up short.
“One Owl is a Party.
Two Owls is Crazy Talk.”
I stopped clicking, and began to think about what that phrase might possibly mean. It was clearly a riff on the “One… is a Party; two is crazy talk” phrase, although the original of that has long since evaporated from my mind. It was easier to think about owls than to ponder this for long—so I did.
Such interesting birds! They've been around for some 5 million years. To paraphrase “A Hard Day’s Night” , they’ve been “looming large in humanity’s legend” for a long time, helping with the rodent problems we create. They also appear as symbols in almost every earthly culture as omens of doom/death/despair, those winged, claw-footed Goddesses from The Dark Side.
My mother-in-law, an angry Scorpio, was fascinated by owls. She had shelves full of owl knick-knacks and ornaments, mugs, throws, pictures, books and so on. She also--rather like a Thurber character--kept a brain-addled, flightless owl. He lived for years in a cage atop her dryer. When my husband had gone to college and our new baby and I couldn’t, I lived in my in-law’s improved basement for several months. On moonlit nights, awake with the baby, I’d hear the poor guy make shivery sad little shrieks. It was all of Nature that was left to him.
Where we live now, there are old silver maples. At times, a great horned owl comes to hang out just beside my bedroom window. He shouts imprecations at another owl who is trespassing. I hear them having it out:
“Who ha. Who ha. Who ha. Who WHO!”
Do you remember, after all that back story, the “One owl…two owls….” thing that started this? The very night I’d seen the tee, “my” great horned came to sit in the tree and start his call and response duo with an owl in the oak on the next block. I lay in bed, listening, hoping to find a key to that mysterious slogan.
Two hours later, I gave up. It has to be a very private joke, perhaps for real Ornithologists. The best I could do is this: For me, one owl “singing” reliably brings a Halloween shiver, but hearing two of them carrying on one of those Gary Larson “You and What Army?” conversations brings me an over-the-top moment of happiness. It’s such a gift to hear birds going about their business exactly as they have for a million years in the midst of an urban backyard.