Did you ever have the feeling someone was staring at you though you could not see who? At first I got that feeling as my dog Finn and I stepped into the silence of pre-dawn mornings as the moon slowly trailed across the sky. And then the haunting call of the great horned owl broke the silence letting us know he was watching from his unseen perch and was calling for a romantic tryst somewhere among the web of oaks and firs and poplars in our yard. Every morning I listened for him and hoped to catch a glimpse of him but no such blessing occurred. He just kept ‘hooting’ to let us know he was there.
He inspired me to enroll in a course on owls out of Cornell University, arguably a foremost school in ornithology in the U.S. (Anyone can enroll in Cornell’s wonderful courses designed for non-science persons who are interested in birds. And, they are very reasonable!) I thought it a creative way to handle the pandemic.
I found owls fascinating to study. All owls have forward facing eyes, sharp talons, with two toes forward and two behind, a facial disk for localizing sound and subtle coloring of grey, brown, buff and white. There are at least 200 species of owls. Owls are not picky eaters. They dine on all rodents, insects, snakes, hedgehogs, skunks, making them ‘top predators’ in the web of predators. The male will feed the female while she is sitting on her eggs and even after they hatch, he will feed the female and the babies. Nice daddy!
You might think engineers took lessons from owls when it comes to flight techniques. They are nearly silent when flying because serrations along the feathers create smooth flights and the fringe on rear feathers decreases turbulence. They can get up to 55 mph and fly over 150 miles at a stretch. They are so intelligent that they sense when their major delicacy, lemmings, will be sparse. If anticipating a slow summer of lemmings owls will lay no eggs, a moderate summer and they will lay 3-5 eggs, a bountiful summer of lemmings and voila! We’ll have as high as 12 eggs. In other words, owls practice birth control!
April is Citizen Scientist Month during which Americans are encouraged to keep records of birds, bugs, flowers, pollination colonies, and so on. There are websites for each of these categories along with instructions on how to record and submit what you find. The results are kept for tracking the health of our natural environment and for locating where there is distress and possible extermination. I see participation in these movements as ways of helping our beloved planet and all God has given us to survive and enjoy. Go for it!!
The Jesuit scientist, Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “It is essential to see, to see things as they are and to see them really and intensely, to see God everywhere in all that is most hidden, most solid, and most in the world.” Make ‘seeing’ part of your spirituality this month of the Citizen Scientist. Sister Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, scientist and scholar of Teilhard de Chardin, has studied and written on Teilhard’s mystical approach to science and says that “scientific interest and training nurtured his life of contemplation.”
Why not make Teilhard’s mysticism a model for your own quest for God? Go outside with a purpose, notebook, maybe binoculars, backpack and water. Sit with nature and study something. Contemplate on it. Get to know God through it.
Note what you observe and carry it to the next level: submit to a resource for that particular item. In some way, you are saving life. Offer it in prayer.
Quotes from Teilhard de Chardin come from Teilhard’s Mysticism: Seeing the Inner Face of Evolution, by Kathleen Duffy, SSJ. Orbis Books, 2018.