Every November, my daughter Katie and I go on the Owl Prowl. Katie has been an avid nature lover since the very beginning of her time on Earth – following fireflies, hatching butterflies, raising tadpoles, keeping backyard toads as temporary pets, absorbing every tidbit of National Geographic’s Planet Earth. Her innate compassion for the natural world often surpassed that of most kids her age. A prime example – when she was four, we visited the reptile section of PetSmart to buy (yes, pay money for) feeder crickets for her toads, Squiggle and Henry. On the way home, strapped into her little car seat, holding the puffy plastic bag full of chirping crickets, she spoke to them in a soothing, singsong voice. She reassured them they mattered, that they were very important because they were part of the circle of life, about to be food for her toads, but don’t worry little guys, it’ll be okay, it’s just the way things work.
So, when I learned about the annual Owl Prowl at Welkenweir, a local nature preserve, I knew Katie would love it. On the appointed Friday night, we bundled up, put on our sneakers, found our flashlights, and headed out. We stopped at the friendly little greeting table for cookies, apple cider, and pretzels, and then went into the education building for the first part of the event – a presentation about owls and birds of prey in our area of Pennsylvania. There were about twenty people of all different ages there, and we smiled at each other as we passed around owl pellets and bird feathers. We were also introduced to several birds being cared for in captivity because they were too injured to be released back into the wild.
Then the group was divided among several guides. Katie and I followed our guide as silently as possible over hill and dale, through woods and swampy patches and open fields. Every so often we would stop, turn our flashlights off, and scarcely breathe as our guide played recorded owl calls to coax the residents – screech howls and a few great horned owls – to respond. We heard a few hoots, but mostly we heard our own silence echoing back at us, the rustle of the night wind, the slap of a beaver’s tail on the pond. But hearing owls didn’t end up mattering all that much, because that night hike was equally about having a unique adventure with my youngest child and strengthening her nature-loving spirit.
That first owl prowl was ten years ago. Since then, the tableau has changed as Katie has changed. For a few years we made it a tradition to stop at a Bob Evans on the way, and Katie was allowed to get whatever she wanted for dinner – even pancakes!! Then we shifted to pizza at home, pre-hike. Then when Katie was eight, she asked if she could bring a friend. I was momentarily crestfallen because this had been our thing, but I realized I should just be happy that she still wanted to go. The night was really for her, so if inviting a friend made it more fun, even better. She brought her friend Peyton, which taught me yet another lesson about my daughter. Peyton was someone Katie only knew a little from soccer and one class at school, but when I asked why Peyton instead of one of her closer friends, Katie said, Well we were talking and I know she likes owls too, so I think she’d have a really good time. Katie’s approach was about finding something in common to share with a new friend.
Last November, Katie’s eighth grade year, she invited two friends to join us. Then sore throats and pouring rain struck. I took the girls to browse around Target and get Starbucks instead. I was okay with it. At thirteen, maybe this was what Katie would really rather be doing on a Friday night instead of traipsing around the woods in the dark with her mom. The girls had a great time at Target, and I had a good time, too, being the chauffer and enabler of their fun. But I wondered if it was the end of the era of the owl prowl …
A couple months ago when I got the Green Valley’s Association autumn events calendar, I tentatively asked Katie if she’d like me to register us for the owl prowl. Yeah, definitely, she said, grinning big. Then her eyebrows knitted. Well, do you still want to go? You want to go right? Of course, I said, smiling equally big, releasing the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. And then I went off to have myself a good little cry over how bittersweet it can be to miss your four-year-old daughter while the fourteen-year-old version of her, beautiful inside and out, is right in front of you.
About our Blogger:
Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder. That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelancewriting.wordpress.com or connect with her on Facebook.