"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pointing Out the Owls

When people ask me if I miss teaching, my gut reaction is to say no.  But that's not really true.  The question I am really answering is do I miss my JOB.  And I do not.  The first things that pop into my mind when I think of my job are the negatives from last year-- the hours of grading and never catching up, the endless meetings, the overload of... everything. I guess the wound is still too fresh.

But of course I do miss teaching.  Teaching was what I loved, and there is evidence that I miss it all over my life.

For instance... 

Lately I've been reading a lot of books about the craft of writing, and-- I can't help myself-- I keep noting in the margins passages that would be good to use in the classroom.  Even when I am the student, studying articles for my own learning, I am still the teacher, wanting to pass that learning on.

Also, I've always loved recommending books to my husband, but now when he needs something new to read, I find myself getting a little carried away.  I thrive on the pleasure of scurrying from bookshelf to bookshelf collecting titles that I think he will enjoy and then presenting them to him.  This is not just a simple, "Honey, I left a couple of books on your nightstand."  No, no, no.  This is a sit-down-give-me-your-full-attention presentation of the books.

"Ok... this is the book I was reading when I kept laughing out loud last month.  Remember?  I think it would make you laugh too.  And this one was kind of weird, but honestly I think you would like it more than I did and I'd love to know your thoughts on the ending.  And this one I haven't read yet, but it's by the same author of that other book you liked.  And THIS one, I know it looks like a girly cover, just don't look at the cover, in fact-- here, I am taking the cover off-- this one is SO GOOD if you just give it a couple of chapters to get going."

The hubby is always so patient/slightly-patronizing/completely-silent during these ordeals.  When I finish, he points and says, "That one," making his choice.  Admittedly, he does not get as excited about these presentations as I do, but he DOES usually like the books.  (You can ask him.) 

Anyway, I know that my passion for supplying Mark with good reading material comes from how much I miss doing the same for students.  I absolutely loved getting the right book into the right hands.

But maybe the most glaring example of my longing for the classroom is in the owls.

Sharing the Owls

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is practically in my backyard, is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.  Last spring when I was there on a busy day, a small crowd had gathered at the archway leading into the central square.  The attraction?  In the planter in the corner where the stone walls meet, high above the heads of the visitors and well-protected from wind and weather, a great horned owl nested with her three fuzzy babies. 

I fell in love with them on sight.  I am a sucker for seeing animals of any kind in nature-- rabbits, deer, snakes, lizards, armadillos-- but I really love owls.  I love the screech owls that roost in our big oak tree in the spring and I love hearing the great horned owls hoot to each other behind the house at night, but I rarely ever see one.  And here they were, just fifteen feet above my head, calmly going about their owl business, content to let us gawkers down below point and photograph and ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’.  A volunteer at the center told me that the mother comes back there every year to nest.  I thought it was so cool.

Mom and Baby - April 9, 2012

Since I live so close, I began walking over there weekly to watch the babies grow.  Sometimes I'd take a book and sit on the bench by the turtle pond and read, snapping a photo now and then or just enjoying the "company" of the owls.  But after that first day, I never saw a big crowd.  See, the thing is, unless you know they're there, the owls are really easy to miss.  It's not like there's a sign or anything.  And the more families that I saw walk past the arch, unaware, the more I wanted to show them the wonderful sight they were missing.  So I did.  

"Have you seen the owl?" 

Over and over again last spring, I pointed out the owls to people who were coming and going from the center.  And this year, now that the mama is back in her nest, I am doing it again.

People are always a little taken aback at first by the stranger woman suddenly accosting them about owls, but after they realize that I am harmless and they see the owl for themselves, they are almost always grateful.  Their eyes light up and they gasp in delight and often they mention how they can't believe they didn't see it before, how they almost missed it. 

And it makes me feel so good.

Baby - April 14, 2012

I’m not doing anything, really.  I’m only showing them something beautiful that was already there.  But it still makes me glow with pride because it reminds me of being in the classroom.   Teaching is like pointing out the owl.  There it is, right there above your head, not even a stretch really to see it, and yet if you don't know one is there, if you are walking, head down, not looking for owls, there is almost no way you can discover it on your own.  You need someone to guide you.

And so, the real answer is yes.  I do miss teaching.  I miss sharing the writing craft with my students.  I miss putting books they'll love into their hands.  And, above all, I miss pointing out the owls.  I miss watching students’ faces light up with the discovery that something so beautiful was right before their eyes and they’d never noticed it before.

Baby - April 18, 2012



  1. Thanks for your post on FB. I understand what you're saying because I too am a retired teacher who loves sharing information. I volunteer in the store on Wednesday mornings. Plz stop by and say 'hello', if you're at the WFC during that time.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Marcia. I well definitely stop by and say hello sometime. :)

    2. Nice to meet you today, Carie. Thanks for stopping by the store and saying 'hello'. Hope you'll be joining us as a volunteer at the WFC. :)