As usual at this time of year on Halibut Point I was looking out to sea, scanning the ocean and horizon for who knows what might come along or pop to the surface. Suddenly I felt I should turn around. Perhaps it was restlessness. I won't try to convince you, or myself, of a gravitational urge compelling a look behind me toward a rock topped by an indistinct fluffy form in the solar glare. But stare I did for a moment, with the quick recognition that the silhouette must mean only one thing in winter daylight, my first sight of a Snowy Owl hereabouts.I hoped that if it was brazen enough to take up this close vigil it might stay put while I circled around for a proper portrait with sunlight coming over my shoulder.
Circle I did, with tripod and long lens, balancing an urgent voice to make haste with a seasoned voice to take care with the exposure. Even in the viewfinder, like peering through a keyhole, the bird seemed magnificent.
The owl seemed to turn itself around periodically. But I realized the torso and feet continued to 'face' me when the face disappeared. Using fourteen neck vertebrae compared to our human seven it was scanning to the rear without changing its outline. Then it would rotate its head three-quarters of the way around in the opposite direction.
How and why could a bird stand immobile in such an exposure? I noticed the feathers covering its oversized talons and beak, and the ample body insulation. The hooded leonine eyes stared back as insouciantly as the King of Beasts on an African plain. On its native terrain of the Arctic tundra the Snowy Owl has relatively little contact with humans.
My subject left its promontory for another. The serrated edges of its flight feathers enabled it to depart without an audible sound.
The owl's long tapering wings, and its coloration, resembled a gull. I supposed that the ducks it plucks from the water most easily in the dim light of dawn or dusk might be caught off guard by this likeness. With a reputed top flight speed over sixty miles per hour it can close quickly on airborne prey.
The owl looked back from the top of the quarry grout pile, then continued out of sight. I was left with a variety of impressions to sift. Owls have figured in the folklore of many cultures, often bridging the observable world to mysteries beyond it.
Since that day I've approached the shoreline cautiously in hopes of further encounters with a Snowy Owl. Once I was rewarded with a brief reprise of the bird on a salient boulder. It immediately took to the air where it once again gave an impression of linking dissimilar worlds.
I enlarged and sharpened the image of the owl against the clouds. The aspects of the bird were there to enjoy as for any soaring creature. But a distinctive aura seemed to envelop it, an economy of power and speed held in reserve similar to its laconic solitary vigil on the rock. The owl embodied the refinements of its particular evolutionary success. It flew off on silent wings.