imaginary outfit: looking for snowy owls

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Snowy owls are landing in great numbers along the Lake Erie shoreline, dazzling Clevelanders who aren't used to seeing the fluffy, white birds perching on piers or break walls.

The birds are unusual in Cleveland. Last year the Cleveland Metroparks had two sightings of snowy owls. This year they have at least 18, and winter has barely begun.


I may bundle Hugh up and go out looking for snowy owls. Sean saw one last Friday, and we went out on Sunday but had no luck. I've seen two owls this fall — silent, thrilling flashes of wide wings illuminated by headlights in the dark — but snowy owls are Arctic creatures accustomed to open spaces and sun-filled days, so spotting one is a different kind of adventure, a scanning of daylit edges and horizons for a tell-tale flash of white.

In Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez writes, 'Animals are always testing the landscape, experimenting, pushing at the borders of their familiar areas in response to changes in their environment.' Some think the snowy owls come south as part of a predator-prey cycle. They eat lemmings, and lemming populations rise and fall in three-to-four year patterns, causing periodic swells in the numbers of young owls that have to find a space to hunt in — pushing the borders of their familiar areas all the way to Cleveland.

As I'm writing this, the polls have closed in Alabama. Either result will be a pushing past familiar areas — a conservative state will embrace, perhaps reluctantly, a liberal, pro-choice senator, or the wishful hope that somehow a majority of the people in this country share some  notion of basic decency will receive another shuddering blow.

Here's hoping for hope, a pushing past into something positive for a change. And snowy owls. To fly so far away and survive in a strange place — this is a pattern of resilience that steadies me.

[Edited to add, at 10:29 pm: The AP called it for Jones. YES!]

[Edited to add: Snowy owl spotted today — December 13, 2017 — around 4:45 on Fairport Nursery Road. It flew down off a telephone pole — white wings against a near-white sky, startlingly large and fast. Shocking and joyful and sudden; very near magical.]