Hogwarts in the Olive Orchard

by cheri sabraw

Those of you who have been hanging around my blog for four years will remember my photo montage and accompanying description of the Bird Man of Sunol, Irv’s, building us a custom owl box and installing it in the olive orchard.

The overly hopeful, idealistic, and Pollyanna-ish person that I can be on occasion (not a good combo because I am often disappointed), skipped out to the orchard the day after the installation, looking for signs of an owl pair. Boy. What was I thinking?

A year passed.

No owls.

My hopefulness receded into to a cold reality.

Any possibility that an owl and her mate would shack up here with us on the Rancho was as remote as the reality of Hogwarts. Invaders–field mice and vols, flying insects and humping lizards–all darted  unrestricted out there in a merrymaking Bacchanalia while we slept across the creek in our bed.

One day,  a year later, after Dinah and I plodded through the orchard, our heads held as low as the ubiquitous mouse holes and snake dens invading the adobe soil,  knowing we would find an unfurnished apartment in that barren box, I returned to my computer to pen this description of not only an owl box, but also about the eccentricities of living in my own owl box with my mate.

Three years passed.

I gave up.

And then.

Several nights ago, my wise old owl and I drove in our Gator over to the orchard where we have a small viewing deck with two Adirondack chairs. We watched a steamy red sunset. We complained about the traffic on the road, the state of affairs here in California, about the loss of culture, and of myriad other topics that begin to encroach on conversation if one does not zealously guard the nature of discourse.

The sun disappeared behind the Peninsula and dusk began its death march into night.

And then.

Out of the thicket of black- green oak trees, a white bird flew toward us.

“Did you see that,  Hermione?”  Harry asked me in a low voice.

” Yes. What could it be?” I straightened my horned-rim glasses.

Then it buzzed us in total silence as raptors do, gliding southerly oh-so-close to our wine glasses, looking down and scanning our shapes and movement as if we were fat sumptuous mice lounging on the chairs after consuming olive fruit flies in excess.

” OMG, Harry. It’s a barn owl. I saw its heart-shaped face, did you?” I whispered  into the air.

Another one, darker in color, emerged from the wood, flapping his wings in mysterious silence and flew to the fence, his silhouette made visible by the setting pink sun.

Another heart- face, he perched with two rather threatening talons, surveying the night’s epicurean possibilites.

They both flew to the owl box. One went in.

I said in my child-voice, “Harry, mail delivery. It’s a barn owl.”



About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Growing Olives, Life, My childhood, Nature photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Hogwarts in the Olive Orchard

  1. Steve says:

    Collateral beauty. Our focus on love, time and death usually works out. Of course patience, really an understanding of this tripartite offering of cosmic anatomy helps.

    A great story that encourages me to remember you have to look for the collateral beauty.

    • Cheri says:

      What a beautiful comment, Steve. Gave me something to think about. Thanks for that.
      And yes, in this world, we must search for, as you say, collateral beauty wherever we can find it.
      Thanks for visiting my blog and offering food for much thought.

  2. What a delightful story Cheri. Sometimes it takes awhile for newcomers to find a new neighborhood. All those nights of quiet sunset viewing must have shown these two that it would be a nice place to raise their children.

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks Kayti. Yes. You are right:a great place to raise owlets.
      As for raising children up here, I am glad they were not children up here. I would have been going up and down this long road to wrestling, soccer, cross-country, and softball practice!

  3. Linda Burr says:

    Congrats from the Burrs. Grandparents again!!

    Sent from Linda’s iPhone


    • Cheri says:

      Thank you Burrs! Let’s hope that this pair delivers the owlets. Now I wish I had an owl-cam in the box. We hear nothing but Irv assures us that they are feeding babies at night. Stay tuned!

  4. CINDY USEDOM says:

    love it

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  5. shoreacres says:

    This is so exciting, Cheri! Perhaps the word is out in the neighborhood that someone who’d spend so much time and energy caring for a wounded bird would make a good landlord. I anticipate the reports will be as delightful for you to make as for us to receive.

    • Cheri says:

      I am glad you as receiver felt my excitement as sender! We have a bit of an aviary going on, don’t we? I’m hoping Irv will come over this month and check the box…Meanwhile, I need to learn how to set the camera for night shots. I have depended on AutoFocus and Auto Settings…Do you know how to photograph at night? That shutter must be way open. All the websites suggest a tripod.

      • shoreacres says:

        I’ll be back. There are a couple of bird photographers I follow — pros — who add their settings to their photos. There may be pretty good guidance there. I’ve done some night photography, but hand-held. I think there’s a setting on my camera. I’ll go back and see what I used, too. It may be tomorrow before I get back to you, but you have some time.

        • Cheri says:

          You are so sweet. We have lots of time. I will await your advice and take it!

          • shoreacres says:

            OK-doke. Here’s what I found. Mia McPherson’s site is a treasure. In her galleries, she doesn’t always list the photographic settings, but she does on her daily entries, now. I linked to the owls, but I suspect the site will be a good resource for you since you travel so widely, and since she works out there in the west (for the most part).

            The other photographer’s site is less information rich, and hard to navigate, since he doesn’t have a search box. So, never mind that.

            I went back to the night photos I’ve taken, and discovered I counted on my camera to do the work for me. In this post, I used the setting called “Handheld night shot” that’s hidden away behind the “Scene” button. It takes four consecutive shots at different shutter speeds and apertures. I thought it worked pretty well both inside and outside. Whether it would catch a flying owl, I don’t know, but from McPherson’s site, it seems that at dusk or dawn, upping the ISO would do the trick. If I go over 800 ISO, I have trouble with a noisy image, but if I studied up a bit, I probably could move beyond that.

            • Cheri says:

              Thank you so much for the time and energy you spent working on a solution for me. I have visited Mia’s site; her photography is exquisite.

              Last night I took my Canon DSL with a Tamron 18-270 lens but was unable to get anything in the dark. One problem is that I took my tripod to AZ to photograph the hummingbirds. I will try again and hope that a lower ISO works.

              I also went online and tried to find a step-by-step list.

              My dad’s advice, which I never took, came back to haunt me: Cheri, take a photography class!

              Thanks so much, Linda.

              • shoreacres says:

                Quick! Lookie here! Creative Live has a night photography class on offer. This is Chase Jarvis’s outfit — remember him? The one I wrote about with Florence Foster Jenkins?

                Their classes are really good. I bought an intro class and a macro class. The thing about buying them is that they’re on-demand — they’re yours, and you can watch as often as you want. You might poke around and see what else they have. Some haven’t interested me at all, and sometimes you can find an instructor online, to see how they approach things.

              • Cheri says:

                Thank you for this link, Linda. I find you to be an amazing person.

  6. Christopher says:

    If you saw the film “Field of Dreams” you’ll remember the words “If you build it they will come”, that an Iowa farmer, walking through a cornfield, heard whispered inside his head.

    Could it be that you heard whispered these same words inside your own head – words you’ve somehow forgotten, but which unconsciously drove you to build this owl-box?

    Just as the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson came, so will the owls come. Just be patient.

    • Cheri says:

      Yes. I loved that movie, Christopher.
      We did erect the owl box.
      The owls have come.
      Now we wait for the owlets.
      Meanwhile, the olive orchard is not a good place to be if you are a rodent…barn owls kill over 25 rodents per night, so they say.

  7. Chris says:

    You and Ron are the perfect embodiment of a Hermione and Harry – what a delightful representation. It was such fun to picture the two of you sitting quietly and whispering (my shoulders automatically hunched forward as I wrote this) to each other in your Adirondack chairs.

    I always think what a gift when we travel back to childhood in the pure joy of nature and its beauty. I am always in such awe.

    Thank you for giving such a vivid picture of your experience and feelings. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

  8. Cheri says:

    Talk about a sweet comment!! I pictured you leaning forward as your penned your comment. 🙂
    Yes about time-travel back to those innocent and pure days of childhood when even a butterfly could excite and trigger the imagination. I still feel exactly that way when nature surprises me with her beauty. A coyote running by my AZ patio, a barn owl in our box, a little hawk-chick in need of shelter–All of these images appeal to my child inside. Thank god she is still available.

  9. Brig says:

    You built it and they came. There were many barn owls in the barns at my daughter’s. In the evenings they would whisper on the breeze as they went by my rocking chair on the bunkhouse porch.

    • Cheri says:

      I love that way of describing their voices…”whispering on the breeze…” and btw, wherever your new digs might take you, I hope you have a porch for your rocker.

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