October 1, 2012

Points East: WHO’s that?

By Ike Adams

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A few weeks ago, Loretta and I were taking in the sights and sounds at the Kentucky State Fair.

We were in one of those vast pavilions where several hundred vendors and exhibitors were crammed in side by side and where everybody was trying to yell loud enough to be understood over his or her neighbor.

 Normal conversation was impossible and I had to cup my ear with one hand and stick it right up in someone’s face to understand a word they were saying.  A few vendors had even resorted to using flash cards.  Customers would point to a watch or bracelet or wallet  — or whatever — and the sales person would hold up a card showing the price, which had me wondering why they didn’t have price tags on stuff to begin with.  

 I finally figured out that prices fluctuated wildly and that a lot of vendors were still trying to figure out what the market would bear.  I also figured out that you didn’t really have to pay the asking price for anything when a little lady in front of me had her own set of cards.  She pointed to a sauce pan and the sales girl flashed $20.  The lady flashed $15.  The sales girl closed her eyes, stared heavenward for a few seconds and then gave a thumbs-up to close the deal.

 Then, all of a sudden, over the roaring din, seemingly from the rafters came a thunderous “WHO-WHOOA—WHO—WHO!!!”

 The crowd quieted almost as if someone had hit a switch to turn the volume off. Loretta looked at me, eyes round as saucers and I told her someone had turned a great horned owl loose in the place. But the quiet only lasted no more than 10 seconds before the volume knob was turned back up to max.

Three or four minutes went by and it happened again, “WHO-WHOOA—WHO—WHO!!!”  Momentary quiet again and three minutes later, the owl bellowed again but by this time it had no effect on the roaring crowd.

 In the meantime I was scanning the rafters and trying to figure out where the bird was until someone finally yelled into my ear that it was coming from the Raptor Rescue and Rehabilitation exhibit located at the back of the pavilion.  At that point I was thinking it must be a recording that they were amplifying with a good set of loud-speakers to call attention to their display.

 Not so. We finally got up close to the large exhibit where several handlers were showing off numerous hawks, falcons, golden and bald eagles, a variety of owls in various shapes and sizes and other birds that had suffered accidental physical damage by running into car headlights, power lines or even being shot.  Injured to the point they couldn’t survive in the wild.  While other folks oooohhhed and ahhhhhed over a very friendly and curious bald eagle named  Liberty who seemed to be getting a kick out of all the attention he was getting while perched on his handler’s arm,  the show stopper  for me was Roscoe, the great horned owl.

He was perched on an old, dead oak snag they had erected especially for him in the display and, for whatever reason, he had decided to show his stuff in broad daylight, oblivious to the thousands of humans milling around below him.  No microphone was involved and when he bellowed out his call, the handlers simply shrugged and explained he was totally unpredictable and he did that any time the mood struck him.    

About a week ago Loretta and I had just turned in when we heard the distinctive “WHO-WHOOOA—WHO—WHO!” coming from up the branch in the woods across the way. We looked at each other,  simultaneously nodded our heads and said in unison, “State Fair.”

I crawled out of bed, went to the front porch, cupped my hand over my mouth and did my best owl imitation as loudly as I could muster.  Not quite as loud as the big guy up the road but good enough to pique his curiosity.  I echoed his call a few times and, within 10 minutes, he was in the huge tulip poplar directly in front of our house, about 150 yards away.  

He has been there for several hours every night since but I have been unable to entice him any closer.  

Loretta says he’s already close enough to keep her awake, but the truth is, she’s just like me.  Neither of us would take a bundle of money for the pleasure we get from that owl. We have our fingers crossed that he’s not just passing through and that he’s going to stick around all winter.