Owl Serenade

Every night lately, the owls have been making their voices heard in the canyon. One evening, when I got home after dark, I could hear two owls nearby, in the creekbed, communicating in the old familiar “whoo whoo” language. I heard another up on the mountainside.

I love hearing the symphony of the owls each night floating in through my open window. Even if I’m having trouble sleeping, the calming sounds of nature are soothing and make me wish that our world could always feel this peaceful. The moonlit nights in the week leading up to the full moon always give me pleasure; I love to look out over the creekbed or up at the shining boulders speckling the mountainsides. There’s a magical feel to it, lending a possibility to all hoped-for good things, even if only right here and right now.

I wonder how owls have become affiliated with wisdom? Is it because they can swivel their heads up to 270 degrees independently from the rest of their bodies? Is it those big, inquisitive eyes that seem capable of pulling your thoughts straight out of you? Or is it simply their habit of staying up all night like some intellectual member of academia?

I remember my mom writing a little song when I was a kid. She was taking a piano class, as an elective, while attending San Diego State College (not “University” yet) and pursuing her geology degree. The lyrics were as follows: “The wise old owl sat in an oak. The more he heard the less he spoke. The more he heard the less he spoke.”

At the time, it had sounded rather simple and repetitive to me, but I think I understand it more clearly now. As a teacher, I can see its significance. We, as parents and educators, may find ourselves continuously preaching at our children. Sometimes, it seems that the more we say, the less they listen. If all they hear from us is constant noise, then it can’t help but dull their senses. At some point, everyone needs to shut down in the face of anything annoyingly repetitive, just to keep from going crazy. It’s a little like that torturing where they strap you down and simply drip water onto your forehead at regular intervals.

John Holt, a well-known child advocate, teacher, and author, once said that, as an adult, when he noticed his own defensive reaction in response to not grasping what was being taught, he asked, “…Please stop talking about it, and just let me look at it.” Then he thought to himself, Remember what you have learned about learning. Be like a child. Use your eyes. Gag that teacher’s mouth inside your head, asking all those questions. Don’t try to analyze this thing; look at it, take it in.

I’ve noticed, too, that kids pick up on things when they’re interested and care to learn about it. Hammering a youngster with letters and numbers when they don’t have any context for the information begins an exercise in frustration for both student and teacher alike. That’s one reason why it’s important to expose our youngsters to many different experiences: so that when they are learning to read, they can associate the words with some real thing they can identify with. Without tangible evidence in our memories, there’s not much hope of understanding or absorbing anything, not when the task of learning how to read is so new and challenging in and of itself.

On the other end of this spectrum, when we’re older and have been reading for decades, simply flipping through a magazine has the potential to spark a new interest. Perhaps something we didn’t even know we cared about. That’s partly because we’ve had more exposure to life’s experiences and can associate what we read with many things.

Anyway, just last month we traveled to Pennsylvania for my husband’s stepmother’s funeral. She was a wonderfully positive person who was always interested in others, letting them expound about themselves instead of going on about herself. Listening and helping others feel worthwhile came naturally to her. She constantly allowed herself to learn new things. A wise old owl.