They are eastern gods — they meditate.
(Yes they are.)
“The Owls” by Charles Baudelaire
(translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay)
The owls that roost in the black yew
Along one limb in solemn state,
And with a red eye look you through,
Are eastern gods; they meditate.
No feather stirs on them, not one,
Until that melancholy hour
When night, supplanting the weak sun,
Resumes her interrupted power.
Their attitude instructs the wise
To shun all action, all surprise.
Suppose there passed a lovely face —
Who even longs to follow it,
Must feel for ever the disgrace
Of having all but moved a bit.
This is a Great-horned Owl photographed just off a Berkeley hiking trail. She was observing us without anyone observing her … until Hugh and I caught the anomalous shape in the tree as we walked by. We didn’t want to draw attention to her on a popular hiking route, so I snapped just two photos then moved on.
[Edited to add 2/21/20: In the years since, I’ve learned a bit more about signs of stress in owls. I’m not sure if this owl is exhibiting any of them — looking at the bristles around the owl’s beak, for instance. If you know, I will add those notes or disclaimers to this post so as to educate others who might land here. These days, I’m even more careful now if I encounter owls, to look for changes in their physiology that could indicate a stress response. Owl sightings often bring out throngs of photographers, so I’m careful not to divulge locations nor contribute to the harassment.]
This is great, informative piece on this subject: Signs of Stress in Owls. If you photograph, observe, or plan to photograph owls, please take the time to read this post.
Great-horned Owls exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning the female is larger than the male. That distinction is beautifully photographed in this post by fellow blogger Ron Dudley. I don’t think it’s possible to tell the sex without both male and female in the frame, but if it is, I’d love to know.