Owl Snags the Moon


Owl was perched in his hooting tree, his mind wandering. It was late on a winter night. The frost was deep, the river was coated in ice, and it was a hard job scaring up any vittles. Mouse and Vole had gone to ground and were holed up in their winter quarters under the snow. Even Hare was hard come by since Old Mother Coyote had prowled through the neighborhood. Owl dug his talons deeper into the Oak bough he was clinging to, and ground his beak, thinking about a fresh rodent.


All the stars were out glittering on the black Sky, and Owl could see deep into the snow-filled woods in the starlight. But nothing stirred. The frigid air was breathless. The only sounds were the booming of the ice and the popping of frozen pines.

Owl gave a sharp HOOT-HOOT and swiveled his head around, just in case, but no startled shadows flitted across his view. In fact there were barely any shadows at all. The Moon was old, and wouldn’t rise until just before dawn. Only starlight dappled the snow below. Owl hopped around until he was comfortable, took a firm grip, ruffed out his feathers, and closed his eyes. Soon Owl was asleep.

In his waking life Owl is a wise old bird, not given to impulsive foolishness, or idle sport. It’s true he loves a quick chase and a sudden kill, but they are as much part of his necessary economy as they are thrilling. Owl has a reputation for calm judgment, and deep insight into the dark reaches of the soul.

But in dreams Owl loves to skate. Maybe it’s an inheritance from his Canadian relations, or some echo of another life. In any case, in dreams Owl longs to play hockey. So now the dreaming Owl was gliding effortlessly across the Black Ice, sweeping an Oak branch back in forth in front of him. His talons dug deeper into his perch. Owl skated on.

He skimmed along the Cathance, skating downriver from Town Farm Bend. Past the smelt camps at the Second Middle Ground, all dark and empty at this late hour. He skimmed smoothly down the Brooklyn shore, executing pirouettes and skating backwards, looking over his shoulder. When he came alongside Little Fish Camps, Owl lifted up gracefully and flew under the Bowdoinham Bridge, sailing over the open water in the old mill race. He touched down lightly opposite Cathance Landing. Owl skated on.

Owl was humming an old hootsong to himself as he swept through Riverbend Camps. He smacked an empty beer can left and right with his stick, then put it away into the darkness under the Oaks lining the river. Owl skated on.

Owl had a nice sweat worked up as he rounded Wildes Point and the Bay open up before him. And there, way out across the Bay, he saw the loveliest glowing puck, resting on the ice, just waiting for him. Owl skated on.

Faster now, as if swooping on a fleeing Hare, Owl raced across the Bay. Owl had never skated so swiftly. It was exhilarating. The cold air streaming into his face blew back his feathers, and made his eyes water. His vision blurred. Owl hooted happily to himself. Owl skated on.

Sprinting now, Owl sped up to the loose puck. It was edged in an eerie light, and seemed to shine in Owl’s watering eyes. He swept out his stick and snagged the puck.

Owl braked sharply. Hooked around with the captured puck, and began racing back toward the Cathance. Owl swiveled his head around and around as he fled, hunting for an opponent who might challenge his possession. Each time Owl glanced over his shoulder he seemed to catch sight of a flickering shadow behind him. But, if he spun around to confront it, the shadow disappeared. Owl skated on.

Owl scuttled across the ice. Past Brick Island and Little Brick. Past the dark trees on Centers Point. Across the frozen flats. Faster and faster Owl skated. But he was more and more anxious. The chasing menace behind him appeared to get larger and darker and more ominous. Just before Owl reached the mouth of the Cathance he braked suddenly. Spun round and raised his stick to high check the pursuing shadow.

And the Old Crescent Moon escaped from Owl’s stick. It lifted up off the ice and shone down onto the frozen Bay. Owl’s dark double stretched out on the ice behind him, the shadow of his stick raised in the air to strike. Owl gasped in shock. Then laughed aloud at his foolishness.


Owl awoke on his perch, hooting in hilarity. The Old Crescent Moon was lifting up over the trees. Owl hooted again. And just then, a young Hare, foolishly sneaking out for a dawn assignation, was spooked by the wild hooting, and ran willy-nilly in a panic. Owl shook his head, and dropped into the chase, on silent wings. The Moon kept rising.

Which is why you may hear Owl hooting in delight when the ice is good, and the Moon is old. And why you must not pay him any heed when he’s laughing at shadows.