Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Wesley the Owl
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Wesley the Owl

Elizabeth Buzzelli - March 16th, 2009
Wesley the Owl
Stacey O’Brien
Free Press Publishers

By Elizabeth Buzzelli 3/23/09

Rene Descartes was wrong. The 17th century philosopher/mathematician/scientist declared absolutely that animals do not possess real feelings and with that pronouncement he wiped away centuries of experiential evidence. Then came B.F. Skinner in the 20th century likening animals to furry automatons. They care nothing for anything or anyone beyond their own survival, scientists proclaimed. A lab’s head in your lap when you’re crying means only that your lap is a convenient place to rest. A cat draping herself over your shoulders and purring in your ear signifies an automatic response. A bird needing to cuddle exhibits nesting instinct. They can’t love; can’t care about each other or anything else; don’t grieve; don’t worry...
Twaddle and hogwash, said Jane Goodall after her years of close observation of apes in their native habitat as they loved and mourned and interacted in complex ways, exploding the ‘furry automaton’ myth to pieces.
Now comes a charming little book about a girl and her owl, capturing the imagination of animal lovers everywhere and once again opening a world of possibility.
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien, isn’t about anthropomorphizing her feathered friend, Wesley, but about finding true affection and continued understanding between two such disparate creatures as a biologist and a barn owl.

Wesley came into Stacey O’Brien’s life in 1985, when he was four days old, brought to the California Institute of Technology where O’Brien worked as a biologist, because his wing was badly injured and it was doubtful he would ever fly. Wesley was in need of a permanent home since he couldn’t exist in the wild as he was.
O’Brien writes: “The little owl was so tiny and helpless he couldn’t even lift his head or keep himself warm. His eyes weren’t open yet, and except for a tuft of white down feathers on his head and three rows of fluff along his back, his body was pink and naked.”
From that first moment O’Brien dedicated herself to the small bird, learning, in sometimes painful increments, what she came to call “the way of the owl.”
As a scientist, O’Brien welcomed the opportunity to study a barn owl in close quarters and agreed to keep notes on Wesley’s behavior over the ensuring years, keeping him in her home—even as she moved again and again—for the next 19 years.
As with so many purely academic pursuits involving animals, it wasn’t long before the relationship grew caring and concerned, therefore emotional. Both woman and owl came to depend on each other; to exhibit stress when they were apart; and relief when they were back together, often indulging in cuddling behaviors and wild displays of happiness.
Years passed and Wesley became a firm center in O’Brien’s life. His taste in boyfriends was loud and raucous, breaking up more than one relationship Stacy had formed. He was never shy with his opinions of people, scaring most away, not letting the ones he didn’t like near him. As if a barometer of the worthy, those accepted by Wesley were allowed to enter his room, clean up his messes, bring him a juicy dead mouse, and even touch his feathers. Others were greeted by screeches and daring feats of flying which could involve claws.

It would take a scientist, such as O’Brien, to endure Wesley’s diet, consisting only of mice—both dead and alive. Providing these live mice for Wesley didn’t faze O’Brien, except when the mice escaped in her car or when they took off during a fancy dinner party at her house.
For the squeamish, tales of flying mouse guts and mass mouse killing might be a bit much. Still, it’s worth it to stay with this memoir. As Stacey and Wesley grew closer the story of their odd inter-species respect and emotional connection proves what most animal lovers have always known. Ask any dog lover if his dog is without emotion. If worry, love, shame, anger aren’t part of their pet’s personality. Now it seems even birds have their own form of love.
Stories abound, in literature and common knowledge, of animals responding with emotion and even forethought. I was recently treated to a crow story which broke my heart. A friend was driving home from work when she saw a flutter of black feathers ahead of her in the road. She stopped. The commotion was caused by a distraught crow leaping and flying to the side of his dead mate, lying in the road, killed by a car. Crows mate for life. This crow, the woman told me, would land next to his mate, throw back his head and make the most mournful of gurgling sounds deep in his throat. Even with her car stopped close by, the crow refused to leave his mate’s side, continuing his mourning as she pulled away.
Desert travelers have reported coming on raven gatherings where the birds congregate around a central spot, much like an altar, staying for several days as more birds continued arriving to attend their strange, communal ceremony.
This winter, while traveling much too fast on a northern back road, my car was suddenly attacked by crows. Crows threw their bodies at me, narrowly missing the windshield. They swooped and dived, forcing me to slow my car. I’d found myself connecting to crows lately but never received attention like this. A couple of hundred feet further on, the road surface turned to pure ice. I controlled my car because I’d slowed way down. I don’t know what brought on the crow attack, but I’m grateful.
O’Brien tells of how 21st century science is slowly awakening to the differences between species and what those differences tell us. She writes: “Scientists used to think bird’s brains were simpler than those of mammals, now we think they may be just as complex, but in a very different way... Even with different structures taking on different functions, however, the groups developed similar kinds of intelligence, so similar, in fact, that we can communicate and share emotions with each other.”
Science aside, thousands of years of friendship and interdependence can’t be wrong. If someone would have given Descartes a parrot, or a poodle, experience and reciprocated emotion would have pointed out the error of his ways.
Maybe we live in a Dr. Doolittle world after all, with Wesley the Owl leading the way.

Elizabeth Buzzelli’s mystery novel, “Dead Floating Lovers,” second in the Emily Kincaid series, will be out in July.

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