Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The midday owl who withdrew from the bank

Commentary by Jim Banholzer


Jim Banholzer

On a black Tuesday after Memorial Day around celestial noon, a flock of crows above Hailey went harassing a great horned owl yearling. These cackling guardians succeeded in winging him directly in front of the Bank of America. While he sat stunned in a handicapped spot for about as long as a solar eclipse lasts, a sequence of events occurred that turned this part of town topsy-turvy.

As it was the first day after a long weekend, pedestrians scurried by almost stepping on the owl—somehow not spotting him in their radar. The person who first noticed was a man who usually dons a Washington Redskin's cap—but not worn on this day. He and I thought we were dreaming, seeing this creature of night thrust into the day's brilliance.

I called a peace officer, who said he would have to call Fish and Game. I mentioned an immediate concern of children walking by and trying to pet it. "Nothing like this has ever happened before around here" his young voice crackled. I agreed. But then he told me, "All we can do for now is 'dispatch' the owl, if you know what I mean."

That's just great, I thought, they're going to eradicate an innocent bird on Main Street with the bullet ricocheting off the vaulted bank and straight into an Arlo Guthrie ballad about Homeland Security—lampooning the whole town. Surely, the young constable would transpire a different hoot himself upon actual approach, by merely setting his sunny stun gun one octave below "Night Owl" and just Tasering this talonious threat away.

The shy owl deposited at the bank could see from every angle that he was in a situation where he had better treat the passers-by humanely, or he would face heavy costs in being withdrawn from the wild.

Blind to the camera phone hooked to my body, I dashed to the van to grab film, all the while focusing on not setting it to flash, which would further bewilder this newly disadvantaged creature. Upon my sudden return, he reoriented enough to fly off silently—free from the dangerous moneychangers. His escape path crooked as he overshot pines south of a Queen's black & white puzzle board. Searchers spied high and low to see if he had again crashed. However, the night eagle soared into his rightful realm, now sharing skies with other unseen communication channels—poles apart from the telegraph wires his grandparents used to stalk over simple plots of spud. He then gazed clearly through solar skylights at detached humans freely swallowing mysterious cyberspace columns whole, then regurgitating unneeded paragraphs.

Meanwhile the football fan whose hat no longer casts curses toward Native Americans and I pointed like wild Injuns toward the feather dust still softly swirling on the sidewalk.

By evening twilight, as my thoughts flocked about the owl and the Red Warrior's skullcap that blew off, it struck me that in indigenous cultures it's taught that owls can see what others cannot—the essence of true wisdom. Furthermore, the owl is a symbol for deception in the sense that he cannot be tricked. With his piercing clarity of vision, he naturally deflects the deceptions we attempt right back onto us, sometimes bringing unforeseen nightmares into the middle of the day.

Something else I had forgotten is that some humans hold certain characteristics in their heart-shaped minds, in common with our owl cousins. Paradoxically, some people may have this type of power and not even be aware of it. A person with good owl "medicine" should not use it to shift winds out of others sails, except in extraordinary circumstances.

That very crossroad is one that I sometimes think I will easily be able to turn left and merge into traffic in the middle of the day, truly believing that I can still fly through Hailey like it's a small, sleepy town. Until in extraordinary awakening circumstances, a friendly officer with halting radar gives a hoot while seeing through everything and eagerly hands me a guardian gift—a kind reminder that I, too, have been softly deceiving myself.

(Footnote: The above event happened on Tuesday, May 31, 2005.)

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