Have you ever had an early morning appointment for the following day, and when you lay down you had a “let’s get to sleep quickly” feeling come over you? Well, that happened to me last night. I had a morning appointment in the central San Joaquin Valley of California, and I live four hours away in Nevada. Four o’clock a.m. would come early, but just before bedtime my appointment called and postponed until the next week. Whew! Not faced with the pressure, I could relax, watch the news, read a little, open the window by the head of my bed, and breathe in the cool fresh air. “AHHH-H-H—H!”, I sighed as I began to drift off to sleep.
The moon was bright outside, almost a full moon, and all of the nighttime creatures started to awake and become active. It was absolutely still; the desert air did not move. As I began to doze off, the coyotes started to howl. A female with a howl and a yip-yip called to the male of the pack. He answered, and the three nearly grown pups chimed in the chorus. All of them seemed to say “Let’s meet up at Steve’s place!” In about half an hour all of them sat and howled out by my tractor about three hundred feet from my house. They talked to several other packs across and around the lake adjacent to my homestead. I stumbled out onto my deck , and hoarsely yelled at them to go away. After ten or fifteen minutes they left, but only after my Australian shepherd dog Kojack stopped barking from his enclosed pen. Several minutes after I returned to my bed, my feet began to warm, and I drifted off to sleep.
“What was that!” It was about 3:00 a.m., and something walked around on my deck table just five feet from my window. I could hear the claws as they scratched the Formica. “Kojack , is that you?” I whispered. Once in a great while he escaped from his pen at night after I was careless and did not securely fasten his gate. No answer or whine for acceptance was returned. It was not Kojack.
It became silent for a few minutes. Then my fifteen foot long television antennae mounted on a pole adjacent and just above my roof line started to creak. It made sounds like something rather large was on top of it. It was probably a bird, I thought. I relaxed. At night, it must be an owl, or some other large bird like a hawk or eagle taking a rest.
As sleepiness started to overtake me again, a sudden loud booming voice said “Who-Whoo-Whooo!” I groaned, but knew it was one of my four friends. With that size of a “Whoo”, it had to be a great horned owl. There were four great horned owls near my place, a mom and a pop, and two kids that hatched nearly a year ago the previous spring. Each night they serenaded me from four different large cottonwood trees scattered around on the shore of my lake. They occasionally came up to my house, although it was rare. I affectionately called them my “Whooers”. If you can ever listen to them, listen carefully. I like to call them Whooers, because that is what they say.
Well, my Whooer whooed long and hard for about twenty minutes, and finally flew away. Sleep would elude me tonight as Whooer returned with a freshly caught fairly large animal, probably a rabbit, that it plopped unceremoniously onto the end of my gabled roof above my window. The owl whooed and whooed triumphantly to let all the creatures know who they should fear.
Then the owl started to tear into the flesh of its prey. It was so close I could actually hear the owl burp between gulps. In carelessness, it dropped the carcass down onto my deck twelve feet below. I got up onto one elbow, and looked out my window to watch the owl eat. The Whooer tore, ate and smacked its beak. After about an hour, the owl picked up what it could carry in its talons, and flew away down to the cottonwood trees. The Howlers, who by now had come back up into my yard while Whooer ate, trotted off down to the trees by the lake also. I knew whatever the owl dropped, the wolves would clean up after it. By daylight the magpies would arrive and probably pick the gleanings completely. Nature has her ways to clean up after herself.
It was early morning. “Who needed sleep?” I muttered under my breath. I filled a bucket with warm water, added detergent, grabbed my broom, mop and an old rag to clean up my outer wall, the deck and the table. “Here’s to ya Whooer!” I said in a mock toast with less than my usual affection for the owl family. “Next time just let me sleep!”