Thoreau’s neighbor


I’ve written this post before, I know. But with so many new folks, I can get away with it. I was telling my kids about Henry David Thoreau the other day. And I always think of him when I hear a Great Horned Owl – here is one of his many writings that mention  the “cat owl”

December 9, 1856 From a little east of Wyman’s I look over the pond westward. The sun is near setting, away beyond Fair Haven. A bewitching stillness reigns through all the woodland and over the snow‑clad landscape. Indeed, the winter day in the woods or fields has commonly the stillness of twilight. The pond is perfectly smooth and full of light. I hear only the strokes of a lingering Woodchopper at a distance, and the melodious hooting of an owl,  which is as common and marked a sound as the axe or the locomotive whistle. Yet where does the ubiquitous hooter sit, and who sees him? In whose wood‑lot is he to be found? Few eyes have rested on him hooting; few on him silent on his perch even. Yet cut away the woods never so much year after year, though the Chopper has not seen him and only a grove or two is left, still his aboriginal voice is heard indefinitely far and sweet, mingled oft, in strange harmony, with the newly invented din of trade, like a sentence Allegri sounded in our streets,‑hooting from invisible perch at foes the woodchoppers, who are invading his domains. As the earth only a few inches beneath the surface is undisturbed and what is was anciently, so are heard still some primeval sounds in the air.  Some of my townsmen I never see, and of a great proportion I do not hear the voices in a year, though they live within my horizon; but every week almost I hear the loud voice of the hooting owl,  though I do not see the bird more than once in ten years.


The owl above I found at work, I knew where we had heard them calling a lot lately; back & forth in the mid-to-late afternoon. I took a chance & went to see if I could find one. Just stood near the spot & scanned all the white pines for 15 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed this one right near me.

Later in the day, the owl had turned to face the sun:

gho PM

Other birds were out & about – some I often just pass by – the blue jay being one of these. I always think that if people had never seen one, or if they were not so conspicuous, folks would travel miles to see such a bird:

blue jay

Then I was looking for the golden crowned kinglet again, but found a chickadee instead, here then gone.


chicadee gone


5 thoughts on “Thoreau’s neighbor

  1. My husband and I take our young daughter out to a small community college campus that is practically abandoned on weekends to roam and watch the birds. Only until recently have we became serious in attempting identification. Just this weekend, as I was watching a sweet little Black Phoebe flicking its tail, a large bird of prey came into view flying in a manner so abnormal I could hardly miss it: the bird was hovering! My first white-tailed kite sighting! It was such a satisfying feeling to have been at the right place at the right time so as to catch a glimpse of such a beautiful creature.

    I am perfectly happy with our usual scrubjays and woodpeckers in my neck of the woods (CA), but it sure would be a treat to see a pretty Blue Jay!

  2. Nice, I enjoy your use of the steady hand and moving subject, always refreshing.
    Don’t the small birds mob owls that are out in daylight? Here they do, so the precise location of a ruru is often given away by the frenetic activity and alarm calls of the passerines. Sadly, we are down to one native owl (ruru) and one introduced (the little owl).

  3. I was just reading Walden last month, so I actually remember this quote. Amazing owl photo, I used to hear an owl there, but never once saw it. But then neither I nor Thoreau have a telephoto lens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s