A couple of years ago my family and I moved to a small farm in the suburbs. It wasn’t a move we were totally happy about. We had been living in a little house on a hill in deep Northwest Portland. It was right at the edge of the woods and looked out over the Willamette River and St. Johns. We loved our neighbors. It was hard to leave.
The first week we lived here, at the farm, a guy who was replacing some old beams in our garage told my husband, Colin, that he’d seen a baby owl by the barn and that it had looked sick. Colin summoned me because I’m the animal wrangler in my family. I shoo possums out of chicken coops and free birds that manage to fly in through open doors. I will happily catch a snake or a mouse or crawl under a barn in search of a sick baby owl, which is what I did.
The barn owl was a juvenile, though still big - like the size of a cat - and was definitely unwell. It laid on its back with its wings hugged tightly to its sides and looked up at me from its moony face, barely moving as I got close enough to touch it. I bundled it in a towel, carried it inside like a baby, put it into a cat carrier, and raced to the wildlife care center at the Portland Audubon Society.
The Audubon Society is in Forest Park, near our old neighborhood, and it felt sad to go back there. I missed being in the woods. I had a lot of conflicting feelings about the suburbs. My house didn’t feel like home. But it occurred to me as I drove towards Portland that maybe living on a farm would mean lots of opportunities to rescue animals and the ten year old girl in me was tentatively satisfied. I thought about the owl. I imagined it recovering. I imagined feeding it and caring for it and releasing it into the wild. I imagined it would know me and we’d be friends and it would have a special call that I’d recognize when it flew around at night hunting mice. I got to the wildlife care center and thrust the cat carrier into the arms of a veterinarian, who disappeared into the clinic with it.
Alas, this story doesn’t have a happy ending: the owl died. I had pinned my hopes on it so acutely and burst into tears when they told me, like a crazy person.
But the good news is that a whole family of barn owls lives in the cupola of our barn. They’ve been there for years; long before we moved here. We’ve watched them have babies and we’ve seen the babies fledge and learn to hunt. As for us, we inevitably began to settle into our new home. We turned a little room into a library. We used old wood in our barn to build a bunch of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and I designed wallpaper for it; a first for me. I included barn owls in the design, along with our initials, and hollyhocks because I love them. I found a local company - Juju Papers - to screenprint the paper for me. Colin wanted a dark and cozy room to read in so we printed it in metallic silver ink on navy.