“An all-or-nothing creature, Wesley's emotional responses were as transparent as a child's. Things were black and white, good or bad, safe or dangerous, so he always expected me to follow through with exactly what I told him I was going to do. Otherwise he'd become visibly upset, refuse to make eye contact, or even screech in protest until I did whatever I promised. Owls do not tolerate lies. If I said, 'I'll play with you in two hours, Wesley,' and then went about my business, two hours later he would start screeching and become unmanageable. I was stunned to learn that he had processed what two hours meant. I would say 'in two hours' and then follow up two hours later, and did that so often that he was eventually able to figure out that it meant he had to wait a certain period of time. Somehow, he did know, generally, about how long two hours was, although he didn't learn other time periods in chunks of hours. He also learned what 'tonight' meant, as well as 'tomorrow.' He may have been tapping into certain patterns of mine, but still, he was able to put those pattens together with my statements about 'tonight' and 'tomorrow.' I was unable to discern how he knew all that he knew. I wouldn't have been as surprised if a dog had learned what Wesley did, but I hadn't expected and owl to have such abilities. Wesley would screech all through the night if I did not keep a commitment, making it impossible for me to sleep. It was just one of the many life lessons Wesley was teaching me, another Way of the Owl: if you make a promise, keep it.”
Stacey O'Brien, the author of this month's literary selection, Wesley the Owl, lived with the barn owl for 19 years. He came to her as a four-day-old chick with nerve damage in one wing; the small bird would have been unable to survive in the wild. Ms. O'Brien was at the time an assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech; she took Wesley home with her and became his caregiver and family. During the years that they spent together, she studied her owl's habits intensively and first-hand, obtaining invaluable information about barn owls, and recording behaviors that had never been seen in the species. Subtitled The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl, Wesley takes a fascinating look at one owl in particular, and tells a compelling story of a complex, emotional, non-human being capable of reason, play, and, most important, love and loyalty. If you're an animal lover, or even if you're not, be sure to read all about Wesley, the barn owl, and his girl, Stacey; you'll be glad that you did.
Copyright © 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.