A Visitation

 Poem By Geoff Oelsner


 In the hush of dusk, I sat by our garden, empty-handed, waiting
for nothing, relaxing into that greying time between day and night

when silence seeps up around sounds, and sounds drift deeper
into silence. I was singing to encourage a tomato plant.

I was loving the darkening land. As stillness filled the garden,
I sensed a seeing, swept my gaze, and spied a watchful little owl

perched on a cedar fencepost. I recognized its compact silhouette
and could vaguely make out tufted ears and grey feathers fading

into dusk obscura. It was an Eastern Screech Owl, otus asio.* Our eye-beams intertwined.

I became aware that I'd been hearing but not listening to successive low-toned owl wails coming from behind the fence in our backyard.

photo by Leslie Oelsner

 Some curtain of attention had now parted to reveal soft tremulous calls, rising from a parliament of owls in fluttering motion.

My body relaxed further as I rested my attention on the calls, and exchanged head-swiveling glances with the sentinel.

Low whinnies ventilated out from each unseen owl body, a sound like feather shutters being blown open by sudden winds from within.

Then sound became visible, as one scout owl ghosted past the fence, lofting over our gardeEastern_Screech_Owl-red-phase2(1)n down the slope into the dark arms of a huge Post Oak with its branches

spreading out in all directions. And now came floating over two three four

more weightless little owls, as the sentry owl kept his watch.

 The four glided to the oak and flittered in the tree’s great middle branches, their songs revolving ‘round and ‘round its trunk.

Now they were joined by owls five and six, who flew suspended in the hush, which they plied with shivering wails, settling then fluttering in a vibratory dance among the branches.

All this was witnessed by the solitary sentry, now repositioned on a broken limb of the old oak, as the owl troupe continued its ecstatic song and dance in the shy grey fading twilight.

Author's Note: The Eastern Screech Owl isn’t actually much of a screecher. It was called the Shivering Owl in the Old South because of its tremulous descending purrs and trills. Eastern Screen Owls are locally known by myriad names, including simply Screech Owls, Mottled Owls, Little Horned Owls, Cat Owls, Mouse Owls, Red Owls, Little Grey Owls, Whickering Owls, Spirit Owls, Little-eared Owls, Ghost Owls, Little Dukelets, Demon Owls, Shivering Owls and Dusk Owls. They have two color phases, grey and russet. Like only a few other birds, they mate for life.