Editor’s note: The following story is re-published from Myron Williams’ book, “Cornfield Chronicles: Featuring Snowball, Pony From Hell.” Williams was an editor with IFT publications for 30 years. He retired in 2014.
It’s funny how certain adventures or misadventures stand out in your mind. I can remember one of these incidents very clearly even though it happened roughly 60 years ago. I now call it “The Great Owl Escapade.”
My brother Gail loved to hunt. As were most farm boys, he was a good shot.
However, the unfortunate side of his talent was his carefree attitude about shooting at anything that suited his whim. This included any good-sized bird or varmint that crossed his path or even the weathervane, which featured the classic running horse, that rested on top of the barn cupola.
Being only 5 years old or so, I don’t recall the reason — if there was one — for my brother’s unusual hunting trophy. I’d like to think he bagged a predator that had been snatching chickens and/or kittens from the farmyard.
Nevertheless, one day Gail walked out of the timber displaying a great horned owl he had shot.
You have to remember, attitudes about hunting were greatly different in 1957-58 compared with today. I have a feeling even if regulations existed at that time prohibiting bagging such a magnificent bird, that would not have stopped my brother.
He was met with a hero’s welcome by my parents and older brothers. The mentality at the time was it was a good thing whenever a predator was killed.
Gail proudly displayed his kill by holding the bird from wing tip to tip. My brother was about 5 foot, 8 inches tall. He had stretched his arms as wide as he could to show off the wingspread. I was terrified of the thing even though it was dead. The owl was about as big as I was!
Every family member except Mom got their picture taken with the owl.
After the photo session, the owl was spread out on top of the cellar doors, which were outside my downstairs bedroom window at the time. I’m not sure what the plans were for it, but I suspect a visit to the local taxidermist was being discussed.
I remember staring at the bird for a long time — so that was the beast that woke me up in the middle of the night with its haunting calls.
It was hard to feel sympathy for the bird. Great horned owls always look like they have a perpetual scowl with the way their feathers form a V shape around their eyes. The giant birds are noiseless when they fly. It’s an eerie sensation to feel something swoop overhead, look up and see a large bird staring down at you like it is sizing you up for a possible meal.
I eventually grew tired of observing the dead terror of the night and went in the house when called for supper. After a while, the excitement of the hunt wore off and everyone went about their business. My family eventually settled in for the night.
Something or some sound woke me up at dawn the next morning. Everyone who knows me well is keenly aware I am not a morning person. Yes, not a favorable trait for a farm boy. I never had to milk cows in the predawn hours, so I never developed an early internal alarm clock.
Remembering that Mr. Owl was right outside my window, I got up to peer at it out of the bedroom window. To this day, I can still remember the shock of what I saw.
Staring back at me were two of the fiercest large golden eyes I have ever seen. Face to face, the owl and I were only about 3 to 4 feet away from each other.
I was mesmerized and terrified. The owl seemed to have me in some kind of hypnotic trance. I could not move or speak. The bird was sitting upright, taking stock of its situation. In a classic owl move, its head swiveled around in almost a 360-degree arc.
The owl turned back to stare at me for another moment and then it started hopping toward the timber, which was probably about 50 yards away. I watched in stunned silence as my brother’s former trophy made its escape into the underbrush.
After finally regaining my senses and voice, I let out a scream.
“The owl’s alive! It just hopped back into the timber!”
My yell woke up the household. Mom, Dad and Gail rushed over to the window and saw that I was not dreaming or playing a trick. My brother muttered some words I did not understand and rushed outside to look.
A minute or so later, he came back in the house and looked at me dubiously.
“What did you do with my owl? Where’d you put it?”
I just looked back at him and shrugged, “It hopped back into the timber. I watched it.”
Gail glared at me, “Why didn’t you say something?”
I lowered my head shamefully and sniffed, “It was looking right at me! I was scared!”
Dad just shook his head.
“That thing sure looked dead to me. It laid there for hours without moving. I’ve never seen such a thing.” He looked at my brother. “You going out to look for it?”
Gail looked out the window then studied me some more. That devilish twinkle returned to his eyes.
“Nope,” he said. He turned back to me. “You sure that really happened?” I nodded. “Uh huh, good one,” he replied, swatted me softly on the head and went upstairs to get ready to go to work.
“What’d he mean by that?” I asked my parents.
Mom chuckled. “I don’t think he believes you, but he’s going to let it go. I believe you. I don’t think you’d touch that thing.” She then left to make breakfast for the family.
Dad stared out the window and repeated himself. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”