About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, March 28, 2011

#22: Wesley the Owl

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Story of an Owl and His Girl, by Stacey O'Brien (New York: Free Press, 2008).

"On Valentine's Day 1985, biologist Stacey O'Brien first met a four-day-old baby barn owl -- a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet's ability to fly was forever compromised, and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. O'Brien, a young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, was immediately smitten, promising to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. Wesley the Owl is the funny, poignant story of their dramatic two decades together. With both a tender heart and a scientist's eye, O'Brien studied Wesley's strange habits intensively and first-hand -- and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl's lifetime). As Wesley grew, she snapped photos of him at every stage like any proud parent, recording his life from a helpless ball of fuzz to a playful, clumsy adolescent to a gorgeous, gold-and-white macho adult owl with a heart-shaped face and an outsize personality that belied his 18-inch stature. Stacey and Wesley's bond deepened as she discovered Wesley's individual personality, subtle emotions, and playful nature that could also turn fiercely loyal and protective -- though she could have done without Wesley's driving away her would-be human suitors! O'Brien also brings us inside the prestigious research community, a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes fly freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals; all of them were changed by the animal they loved. As O'Brien gets close to Wesley, she makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication, coining the term 'The Way of the Owl' to describe his inclinations: he did not tolerate lies, held her to her promises, and provided unconditional love, though he was not beyond an occasional sulk. When O'Brien develops her own life-threatening illness, the biologist who saved the life of a helpless baby bird is herself rescued from death by the insistent love and courage of this wild animal. Enhanced by wonderful photos, Wesley the Owl is a thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, often funny story of a complex, emotional, non-human being capable of reason, play, and most important, love and loyalty. It is sure to be cherished by animal lovers everywhere."

Table of Contents:
  1. The Way of the Owl
  2. To That Which You Tame, You Owe Your Life
  3. Owl Infancy
  4. Barn Owl Toddler: Love Me, Love My Owl
  5. Flying Lessons
  6. Attack Kitten on Wings
  7. Love to Eat Them Mousies
  8. Understanding Each Other: Sound and Body Language
  9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  10. A Day in the Life of a Biologist
  11. Owls Are Not Waterbirds
  12. Deep Bonds
  13. The Sex Tapes
  14. Fifteen Years of Trust
  15. Twilight: He Whom I Tamed Saves My Life
  16. The End
  17. After
My Take: A sweet, funny, and sad in unexpected places book. Bonus points for its actually including some interesting information about owl behavior, and for being a book Twig and I could enjoy together (well, serially, but still).

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