(Graphic art by Ariel Linn 12 years old)
The little barn owl was preparing to hunt.
Emerging from a handy gap in a stack of hay bales she took pause. She listened.
Twilight was fast approaching and cocking her head to one side she quickly determined that it would be a cold, wet flight this night. The rat-a-tat tat of water droplets echoed off the tin barn roof confirming her suspicions. And her fears.
She knew her chances of a successful hunt were limited by the whims of weather.
That month the torrential rains had ravished her home range and flooded out the Sumas plains. What had once been a lush, green patchwork of pasture lands stretching from Abbotsford to Chilliwack, which allowed for small rodents to thrive, was now completely submerged - her food source with it.
She knew these lands intimately. Her chances of survival decreased without this familiarity, but when the Mighty November Storm hit it had been impossible for her to stay and weather it.
She had survived. Her life mate and owlets had not.
And day after day, the cold, unforgiving rains just wouldn’t cease. It was always feast or famine for a practiced and cunning sky hunter like she but hope and hunger alone were not able to stem the tears of Father Sky.
The rumbling in her hollow tummy was a constant reminder. She needed to eat.
Moving towards a hole in the old, wooden soffit in the barn loft, she braced against the damp night air and prepared to take flight.
From habit, more than anything, she emitted a haunting screech. It was how she’d called out to her life mate before he’d been taken from her. From all of them. Her cry echoed off the deserted barn rafters and faded to silence.
When he hadn’t returned the night of the Mighty Storm, she had known he was dead. An expert night flyer, he always returned with the spoils of a successful hunt, while she stayed with the owlets. Guarding her nest.
He would always return before dawn of each new day, when the world was about to awaken. And present her with a headless, juicy vole, or rabbit.
The owlets would chirp and peep with delight, craning their little necks for first dibs on a tasty bit of warm mush she had internally prepared. Her instincts were always to feed her babies even at expense to herself.
But he had never let her go hungry. And, he had never not returned.
Until that fateful dawn.
She had waited for two days despite her instinctive knowing. Waited until she had no choice but to hunt. For her babies, for herself. Yet, she also knew that if she left the nest unguarded, her young would have no defense against the potential predators she’d so carefully hidden them from.
If she did not hunt, they would all starve. It was a chance she would have to take.
Sadly, the gamble was not to be won. A ravenous, female raccoon – alerted by the owlets calling for their mother – had instead been in luck that night. Hours later, when the huntress returned, she was greeted only by cruel silence and the emptiness that accompanies it. Despair washed over her much like the cold, unforgiving flood waters that had consumed the owl’s natural habitat.
Now, she was truly alone.
As weeks passed, she took to the winter nights in soundless flight. This gift was crucial to her survival now. Moles and voles buried deep under snow put her excellent hearing and night vision to the test.
Over the flood plains she glided, surveying the carnage these creatures called Human had caused. Strange, dangerous animals that destroyed Earth Mother and needlessly ravished everything in their path. Didn’t they care for anything but themselves? Didn’t they fear Earth Mother’s wrath?
In flight, she surveyed their broken bridges and metal corpses littering the roads. These animals made no sense to her. Those that violated nature were not part of her kingdom. These entitled, greedy things poisoned Earth Mother and blackened Father Sky. The only living beings that needlessly kill and indiscriminately destroy – but why? She didn’t know. Even a ground vole knows not to destroy its own home. But not these Humans.
The kingdom knows that Earth Mother is hurt and angry. And rightfully so. She will fight back with fire and flood. Release avalanches of putrid mud. Boil the seas and rip open the skies. Trying to rid the Earth of these ridiculous, ignorant human things that know not gratitude – only pointless destruction of everything in their path.
Earth Mother will triumph, and this the little owl knew. Circling towards home on a wind current, she headed back to the silence of the old, deserted barn. Along the way, she spotted a mouse scurrying on top of the snow crust and secured herself an evening meal.
As the days got shorter, the little barn owl continued her routine. Taking flight in late evening, silhouetted against the setting of Sun, and fading soundlessly into the welcoming arms of Night. The flood waters receded at last. Little mammals began to return to her hunting grounds making quick work for a tasty moonlit meal.
On evening, she heard the haunting cries of another barn owl. A lone male. A call of welcome from the forest shadows. She combed her white, heart shaped face, smoothed her tawny tail feathers and called back to him.
It was not long until he appeared in the soffit opening in the barn loft. Sleek, tawny feathers tipped with black, and white face framed in the shape of a heart, he preened convincingly. In his talons was a headless, juicy vole.
His gracious offer of dinner was readily accepted.
And that April, the newborn owlets would chirp and peep with delight, craning their little necks for first dibs on a tasty bit of warm mush she had internally prepared. She would always feed her babies even at expense to herself.
But he would never let her go hungry. And that night, her new life partner would return.