Friday, October 19, 2007

Outdoor Life [CCR]

My new house in Tennessee restores my enjoyment of rural life and the great Southern tradition of sitting on the front porch. Many evenings my children will be doing their homework or entertaining themselves with the various electronic contraptions located throughout our house when I sneak out to the front porch to sit and listen. From this solitude you can hear the dogs around the area barking or other nightlife. In the hours before dawn you can hear a rooster crowing in the distance. But this particular evening I hear a familiar sound.

As a small child growing up in North Alabama Dad frequently beckoned us outdoors to hear the ever famous hoot owl amidst the nighttime air. For those who wish the more accurate name, the Barred Owl or Strix varia. Either way, the familiar “hoot” is easily recognizable as it echoes through the night.

Alabama folks are lucky to have several varieties of owls populating the area, including the Barn Owl. These owls were very useful in keeping rodents away from our winter barn stash, but they didn’t carry the excitement of stepping outside to hear that familiar call of their relative.

The hoot owl frequently made its presence known on our coon hunting trips or near an evening hunting camp when sharing stories before the glowing embers of a fire. These owls are a familiar accompaniment to the evening sounds of the Alabama nights. Dad always made sure we all paused and listened to the familiar call.

Now I sit quietly on the front porch with the lights out to avoid the onslaught of the insect population. I can hear my familiar sound. Maybe the creature was rustled awake by the dogs or maybe he is calling for an evening meal. I’m not sure the reason, but the sound makes me long to hear the familiar hoot owl. My recognized sound is not that of a hoot owl, or any fowl for that matter. It is the humble call of a simple domesticated animal who has served us for thousands of years, a donkey.

I’m not sure if this donkey jostled my memory of the hoot owl or if the cool crisp air brought memories of hurrying to the front porch and listening intently for the owl. But it is pleasant to know my friend is adding his part for the harmony of the evening and is no less a part of nature. Maybe tomorrow night the hoot owl will join the melody with his rhythmatic call and once again I will be taken back to those evenings on a front porch stoup in Alabama.