It’s back. I saw it again last night. The first time I saw it was back in 2008, in the winter when I was out planting our orchard, by moonlight… Since then others have seen it too. So I know I’m not crazy.
The first night out the coyotes had been yipping off and on, probably half a mile away, and it was just cold enough to take off my coat when digging the holes for the trees. I had done the layout over the weekend when I had daylight to work by. I had more time though to do ‘head lamp’ work in the evenings. With the girls in bed, I had grabbed my head lamp, coat and set out for the orchard. It’s at the other end of the property, and there are enough alders in the way to not be able to see the house. The moon was just shy of full (waxing gibbous if you want to get all technical) or as the Algonquian called it a ‘Wolf Moon’. Creepy yes?
Part way through the first hole, I stopped to take off my coat, as I was starting to warm up, and thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, way off towards the neighbors house. I figured it was nothing, probably the neighbor checking on their chickens, after all their dog had barked a couple times. By the time I had finished the first hole, I had shut off my head lamp (the moon was super bright, casting dark shadows from the partly complete barn and trees. If I remember right I dug 5 holes that night. With nothing but the occasional yipping of the yotes over toward the small beef cattle lady at the other end of the dirt road we share. There had been something over past the chicken yard, toward the creek for a few seconds, that looked like a thick wisp of mist moving against the trees, but by the time I had rubbed my eyes, it was gone. Just some low mist about as tall as the grass that had grown up and died in the summer heat.
Two nights later I was back out. A bit later, this time, and with another dozen or so holes to dig. I only finished two. The third was abandoned with a small amount of haste. It was brighter, with the moon full. I had not even taken my headlamp out with me, and by the time I walked to the orchard, my eyes were accustomed enough to the low light to let me see everything I needed. I probably could have read a book by the light if I needed to. The coyotes were yelping to beat the band. Apparently it was ‘sing along’ night as there were at least three family groups preforming the coyote version of ‘we have spirit yes we do, we have spirit how bout you?’. Then at about 10 minutes till midnight they cut off the performance. No slow fade, they were there one moment and then gone the next. It’s funny how when noise suddenly stops we tend to notice. I looked up, off toward the road, and the end of our driveway about 30 yards away. Something was moving down the little dirt road, on the other side of our trees. It was about 8′ off the ground, and silent. White or grey, looking about the size of a pillow, but not holding any definable shape. It was visible in momentary glances, between the trees, and then it was gone. I hefted the shovel and walked quickly to the road. Nothing. The road runs straight for about an eighth of a mile, and there was nothing on it… Just some dark shadows where the moon light didn’t penetrate. I turned and headed back toward the orchard, with the sight of the porch light in the distance against the dark of the woods by our creek. And I saw it again. It slid across our driveway and seemed to vanish as it moved through our porch light. It must have gotten over the fence to the chicken yard I thought, because the geese went bonkers yelling for about twenty seconds after it disappeared in that direction. That was enough for me for the night. I headed back for the house, and as if to seal my decision, as I was coming into the pool of light from our porch, a scream floated out of the woods behind our house. I kid you not. My hair on my head stood up so straight it probably looked like my head doubled in size.
I had a pretty good idea what the white thing was by this time, but last I had seen, it was headed North, away from our house and the creek, and that scream came from our back yard, to the south of the house. How pleasant was it to see the dogs all sleeping around the wood stove and my wife working on some project when I came banging in. “Hello?” she said a bit surprised. “did you hear that?!?!” I asked. She admitted that she was not listening for ‘that’ “what was it you heard?” I told her about the scream, and her disposition went from sleep sedated, fire warmed comfort, to FULL MOMMA ON GUARD ALERT about that fast. We locked the front door and stuck out heads out the back with as much battery powered wattage as we could find. The dogs were about as wound up as 5 year olds at Disneyland, and didn’t help. They were trying to decide if they should be excited or afraid, and that’s a bad time to be in slippers, with dog feet dancing all around. We stood on the back porch of a few minutes and we heard it again. No doubt, it was about the most blood chilling scream we had ever heard, and to make it creeper, it was coming from up in the trees, not down on the ground… By this time the dogs had lost interest, and if the scream had not been enough, trying to keep about 200# of idiot dogs in the house was a little disconcerting. After the second scream it seemed to gel in my mind. I only got part way through the word before Farmer J finished it. “Owl” we said at almost the same time. A few minutes later we had confirmation in a couple of bird books. The screamer was a Barred Owl. Although Wikipedia doesn’t list the territorial scream, it was mentioned in most of our reference books.
The next night was Friday, and I headed out to finish the rest of the holes. No headlamp again, but with a small hand held walkie talkie. It took a half hour or so to get the ghost’s pattern down. About 7 minutes between cycles. Up from the neighbors to the north, through the orchard along the creek and down the road, then turning East it would zig zag across the filed to the south of our orchard, and finally cross our driveway and the chicken yard disappearing to the north again. There were a few times when it was more than seven or eight minutes between rounds, and I attributed that to a death. I did hear it call once, a short sharp screech, out of sight to the north. That confirmed what I knew was a Barn Owl. When I was finished with the last hole I moved into a position on our driveway to be under his flight path and waited. Running just a few minutes late, it didn’t alter it’s path at all, when it saw me. Floating silently about six feed from me, and only about a foot over my head, it turned and headed down the road. Once it was past the house I picked up the radio and called Farmer J. A few minutes later the front door opened and she started down the drive toward me. She joined me and we waited for our ghost. I pointed out the path it would take and where it would first show up. It was a wonderful wait, standing there together, looking out over our farm. When I spotted it, I made a small gesture and she nodded. Staying on course the owl made her rounds of our property, and moved off again. “wow” was about all we needed to say. 12:30 and a warm fire called us back to the house, and we talked about why we had moved, and how exciting to think of our girl (only one of them at the time) growing up in this kind of place.
And now, three years later I saw her again last night. Finishing mowing around the house, avoiding the wild/pet duck and her nest by the swing set, I parked the mower, shut off the lights and sat for a minute. And there she was. Drifting along on silent wings. Probably feeding babies by this time of year no doubt. Her path was altered slightly, with a deviation to check out the leavings from the chicken tractors for mice, and a tight pass around the garden to see if there was anything stirred up by the mowing. Yes, I thought. We are lucky.