"Dare I ask?" I say, in what I hope is a tone of levity.
"Owls," the dad replies. I look harder, and see the unmistakable silhouette of a great horned owl, peeking out of its nest toward the top of the tree. Someone from the family above says there are baby owls, too. But I can only see the parent, since its head pivots—owl eyes are shaped like tubes, not spheres, to concentrate more light, and so can barely move in their sockets. To see to the right or left, and owl has to turn its head to the right or left, and it can turn its head 180 degrees in either direction, so can look directly behind.
"Cool!" I said, or some such exclamation, and stand there watching as well. I know my iPhone won't take much of a picture, but give it the old school try, and get, well, at least some documentary evidence. Twenty years tramping around the old leafy suburban paradise, and this is my second owl—now that I think of it, the first one, more than 15 years ago, was also at the prompting of a sharper-eyed neighbor, who came up behind me, grabbed me by my shoulders, and gave me a 15 degree turn, hissing softly, "An owl!" That may have been how we met.
Not counting the elf owl I saw at the Northbrook bird sanctuary. That seems like cheating.
The nest, by the way, almost certainly wasn't built by the owl itself, but a crow or hawk whose nest that the owl had taken over. Owls populate an area based, not on prey available, but housing, since gathering twigs and such is beneath them.
That there is something dramatic about owls. The word in English is a very old onomatopoeia, from the Old English "ule," or ulula in Latin, intended to echo their cry. ("Ululate," comes from the same base, and "howl" is related).
Before that, of course, owls were celebrated in the ancient world. The owl represented Pallas Athena, and were considered wise for their solitude, for those large, all-seeing eyes. Glaux is "owl" in Greek, and Homer calls Athena glaukopis, or owl-eyed, which is usually translated as "gray-eyed."
Our silver coins, all of purest Athenian make,
All of perfect die and metal, all the fairest of the fair,
All of the unequaled workmanship, proved and valued everywhere
Both among our own Greeks and distant barbarians—
These we do not use. but the recent worthless base coins
Of vile character and basest metal, now we always use instead.
So I guess we can take comfort that we are not the first nation to face decay, and a decline in our vaunted standards ... Okay, sorry, we've gone far afield from my intent, which was to say, "I saw an owl, owls are cool."