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Gary's Quest for the Snowy Owl

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Gary's Quest for the Snowy Owl

It began simply with a Sunday edition of the Missoulian. The headline announced, “Snowy Owls: Parliament is in Session in Polson.” The occurrence of an irruption bringing these majestic birds close to home was all I needed. “Once in a lifetime” opportunities are not something I pass by easily, particularly when they involve critters in the natural world.

With Internet swiftness our party of three River Journal writers and an intrepid, Libby-based tracker came together. Date set; minor logistics sorted out; and, off we went in Ernie’s wife’s vehicle. (Linda, did we ever say “thank you” for letting us old guys have your ride for the day? Thank you!) 

I knew the Snowies would be big. I knew they would have a certain presence. But I was unprepared for their ethereal beauty and its impact on me. Maybe it was their silence. Maybe it was the slow swivel of the head taking in all around with seemingly knowing yellow eyes. Maybe it was the owl mythology of the ages mixed with J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and his winged companion Hedwig. Or, maybe it was all that swirling together.

Now, as I reflect on both the journey and the destination, themes from a life’s faith walk are reinforced.

Companionship, abiding friendships, and a spirit of adventure are very good. Oh, what miserable souls we become when we cut ourselves off from the love and care we are charged to share with each other. What joylessness can creep into our lives when we no longer let ourselves feel childlike wonder. Four old guys on a day-long road trip was immensely renewing! 

For me the outing, of course, was about Snowy Owls. Last August, it was about wolves in Yellowstone. A year ago, grey whales off the California coast and before that orcas in the Puget Sound. Like so many readers of this River Journal, we are drawn into the wilderness seeking ways to commune with the Divine while we interact with the other creatures in this good Creation. 

As I age, I still long to see mountain lions in western Montana; the caribou migration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and polar bears in the snows of Churchill, Manitoba. With three exceptional companions now, perhaps we will set out once again to climb mountains, carry cameras and binoculars, and patiently wait across a valley floor for a cougar and her cubs to emerge from their den. Oh, and Linda, may we borrow your ride again for the day?   

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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birding, Faith Walk, Gary Payton, Snowy Owl

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