For some Minnesotans, few sounds are as hauntingly beautiful this time of year as an owl in the night. Others, like essayist Peter Smith, wouldn't mind a little peace and quiet.
Smith: An owl of some sort moved into the neighborhood this winter. It arrived back in early December. It must have migrated in from up north. It's established here now, and you can hear it hooting-sometimes close by, sometimes far away-for hours at a time, often all night long.
The sound was pleasant and reassuring at first. There was a tranquility to it. I could drift in and out of sleep with a kind of "all's right with the world" smile on my face. After all, people have been listening to owls in the night for tens of thousands of years.
Now, though, the novelty is fraying. I half-wake to the sound, and where I used to muse, "There's the owl," I grimace now, "There's that owl."
I half-wake and hear it close by. I drift off again. Then I half wake, and hear it a third of a mile away-or farther. "C'mon... Settle down," a sleepy-but-snippish little voice deep in my subconscious mutters, "Some of us have to work in the morning."
It hoots here. It hoots over there. Then over there. And there. If that owl continues to hoot all over the neighborhood all night, who knows? By March I could be out there stalking it with Elmer Fudd-like intent and Wiley Coyote-like futility.
Or maybe nature will run its course. We had a big population of squirrels and rabbits when the owl arrived, and owls love to eat squirrels and rabbits. From the bird's perspective, they must have looked the way a tray full of cocktail weenies looks to me when I walk into a party.
Now the owl has noshed its way through most of the local small animal population. The hors d'oeuvres tray has been picked over pretty darned good.
Let's hope the party is nearly over for the owl. Let's hope it moves on to a new neighborhood-one with plenty of squirrels and rabbits. One where people will hear it hooting near and far in the night and smile to themselves in their sleep.