Memoir Portrays Unconditional Love Between Human and Wild Bird

Wesley the Owl: A Remarkable Love Story Between an Owl and His Girl

by Stacy O’Brien

Copyright 2008

This is a true story of how a California wildlife biologist adopted a baby barn owl she called Wesley and raised him for nineteen years during the 1980’s and 90’s. Most rescued owls are sent to rehabilitation facilities and eventually released back into the wild. However, Wesley had an injured wing and probably wouldn’t have survived if he were released.

Stacy O’Brien, who’s grandfather was a traveling musician, became a child actress, singing in commercials, movies, and television as well as with John Denver, The Carpenters, and other artists. As a child, she screamed when her mother swept a spider off the wall and flushed it down the toilet. Because of this and her overall interest in and love of animals, it was only fitting that, after her career in show business, she receive a biology degree and a job at a California lab.

She explains how she made a nest for Wesley from blankets and other materials and placed it next to her in bed at night so she could train him to sleep when she did. He spent most of his days on perches she adapted for him. She describes how she killed mice and fed them to him and explains why mice are an important part of an owl’s diet. After Wesley turned a year old, she tried encouraging him to kill his own mice, but it never worked out.

She describes how, as a toddler, Wesley took an interest in water while watching her brush her teeth and wash her face at night before going to bed. He enjoyed washing his own face under the faucet while she did this. When he grew older, he liked taking baths in the tub, even though owls aren’t usually water birds.

She explains that since day care and baby-sitters were out of the question during Wesley’s infancy and toddler stages, she took him to work and everywhere else she went, including on a date, which was a disaster. There were several men in Stacy’s life, but relationships didn’t last long once they found out she was raising a barn owl.

She describes how Wesley taught himself to fly, his embarrassment when he crash landed, and his pride when he finally mastered the skill. She describes what are called owl no nos, when an owl turns his head from side to side to indicate that he’s about to attack something or someone. She explains that because birds of prey perceive aggression as a threat, Wesley could never be disciplined like a child because he would never trust her, even if she only raised her voice to him.

She explains how Wesley developed mating instincts, even though he wasn’t in the wild with other owls. One night when a female owl appeared at her window, Stacy was tempted to either let Wesley out or the other owl in so they could do their business. She realized though, that she would never have been able to tame the female owl, and Wesley couldn’t have survived in the wild, even with a mate.

Because of a criminal movement to free animals in captivity and leave them to fend for themselves, resulting in these animals’ deaths, Stacy felt she couldn’t tell anyone about Wesley except her close family and the men with whom she developed relationships. She learned later, after her grandmother’s passing, that she, too, raised a barn owl.

She explains how she changed jobs and locations and how Wesley adapted to these moves. She describes how she discovered a family of barn owls on a roof and tracked their movements and recorded their vocalizations. She discusses how she battled a serious illness as a result of an inoperable brain tumor, how Wesley sustained her, and how she recovered, though not completely. In the end, she explains how Wesley, like any other species, aged and eventually passed. She then discusses her process of writing this book, which includes photographs of Wesley.

I loved her description of how the father owl feeds his family. When baby owls are older, he hovers over the nest, dumps his payload of dead mice, and zooms off, just like a fighter plane. I also chuckled at her explanations of Wesley’s bodily fluids. When she explained that owls aren’t water birds, I remembered a stuffed owl I had as a kid when I was hospitalized for pneumonia and how it fell off my bed and into a pale of water that was part of my oxygen apparatus. At least Oliver, my owl, was easier to dry off.

Wesley the Owl is similar to my own memoir, which was published last year. My Ideal Partner is about how I met, married, and cared for my late husband Bill until he passed. It describes the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver, as does Stacy’s book. At the end of Wesley the Owl, Stacy describes the guilt she felt, thinking she could have done more for Wesley when he went downhill, and I felt the same way when Bill passed. Stacy and I have one other thing in common. My grandfather was also a traveling musician. If you enjoy heartwarming stories of unconditional love, you should read both books.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Poem Depicts Florida Wildlife Adventure

Last week when I posted “Thirty-Foot Sloop,” a poem about my Pacific Ocean misadventure, someone asked me if I ever tried sailing again after that. Well, I have, but not on the high seas. When I visited my brother and his family in Florida, we often took trips down the Loxahatchee River, which is a lot smoother. Last year, we rented a canoe, and I wrote a poem about what happened. Click on the title below the picture to hear me read it.

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My sister-in-law snapped a photo of this creature with her iPhone before she and my brother back-paddled the canoe away from it as fast as they could. 

THE ALLIGATOR

 

A warm March afternoon under a cloudless Florida sky,

floating down the Loxahatchee River,

I sit on the canoe bottom, cramped,

while others paddle.

In a narrow section,

where we hope to spot wildlife, it appears.

Not a snake, but still a deadly creature,

it stands among plants on the bank,

gazes at its reflection in the gleaming water.

I don’t see it–they do.

After snapping a picture,

we sail far, far away

while icy fingers of fear massage my spine.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Diary Provides Great Escape

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One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaska Odyssey

by Richard Proenneke with Sam Keith

Copyright 1973

 

In the late 1960’s, retired mechanic and photographer Dick Proenneke decided to move to an Alaska wilderness area where the only way in or out is by plane and the nearest settlement is forty miles away over mountains and rugged terrain. Through daily diary entries, this book chronicles Proenneke’s life in the woods.

He explains how he built a cabin, furniture, and other items, using most material available in the forest, grew a vegetable garden, hunted and fished, and struggled to stay warm during brutal winter months. He also describes wildlife he encountered and reflects on life in the wilderness compared to life on what he calls “the outside.” The book includes some of his pictures.

Unlike Proenneke, I prefer to read about such adventures and not live them. I’ve never been the fearless type. The one time I tried camping in the wilderness with my family as a teenager, I hated it. For me, it’s much more fun to snuggle in an easy chair with a blanket and cup of hot cocoa while reading of Proenneke’s adventures.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Review: Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone

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Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An Anthology of Wyoming Writers

Edited by Lori Howe

Copyright 2016

 

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays that touch mostly on aspects of western life. Some pieces talk about nature and dealing with the elements, such as Patricia Frolander’s poem, “Wyoming 1949,” in which she describes cutting open a dead horse and crawling inside to stay warm while in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm. Then there’s Aaron Holst’s poem, “Fire and Water,” inspired by one of the author’s firefighting experiences, that depicts an incident that can happen anywhere, not just in the west.

Other works discuss wildlife, such as Susan Marsh’s essay, “A Heart in the Shape of a Bear,” about the plight of this creature in the wild and in civilization. Still others deal with history and culture, like Cindy Jackelen’s poem, “Whose Land,” which depicts the brutality of the Indian War through several voices.

Not all pieces are set in Wyoming. There’s Patti Sherlock’s short story, “Mother George, Midwife,” a fictionalized account of a Negro midwife in Idaho during the 19th century who turned out to be a man disguised as a woman. Julianne Couch’s short story, “Reintroduction,” is set in the Nebraska wilderness. Then there’s Alyson Hagy’s short story, “The Saddlemaker,” in which a young girl from South Dakota is sent to live with her grandparents near Riverton, Wyoming, before her mother’s shady past catches up with her.

I’d love to tell you about each poem, story, and essay in this book, but there are so many of them. Like most anthologies, Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone can be read either cover to cover or in bits and pieces, depending on what strikes your fancy. Poems, essays, and short stories are bunched together, each in their own section.

That’s one thing I don’t like. In many anthologies and literary journals, stories, poems, and essays are together, not each in their own section. You might see a poem sandwiched between two short stories or two essays or one short story and an essay. For example, in Magnets and Ladders, an online journal I help edit, poems, stories, and essays are grouped into sections by topic. It creates less monotony that way.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading many of the works in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. I know some of the writers whose works appear in this anthology, and it’s always fun to read what they have to say. Even if you don’t live in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, or Idaho, this book will give you great insights on western life.

 

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.