Who Cooks for You?
By Margaret DiBenedetto
Dusk. Twenty or so of us had headed up the path through the field, then turned down toward the stream and crossed the covered bridge.
“Here,” said Chris Wood, “this spot is perfect.”
Chris and his wife Jessie Barry, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, had come to the Ashokan Center to participate in Taking Flight, an annual birding conference sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. They had just presented a riveting Saturday night Keynote talk about bird migration, and now were leading our little band of amateur birders on an “Owl Prowl”.
We stopped just past the bridge and quieted down. Chris raised his throat in the pale moonlight and called out a perfect rendition of “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” in hopes of stirring a barred owl to respond. We held our breaths. Didn’t dare move a muscle in fear of not hearing a distant, echoed reply. He tried again, and all ears strained into the darkening night. Nothing.
“Jessie,” he said in a bit,”why don’t you give it a go?”
And so Jessie let loose an even more perfect version. All thought this would surely bring a response. According to Chris, barred owls tend to prefer just this type of forested hillside, and we should be rewarded with a reply. Jessie called again, an again we waited…but nothing.
“Okay, everyone, let’s learn an owl call,” Jessie suggested, and those of us who felt less inhibited, or who’d had an extra beer or two, willingly suspended our self-respect and began hooting. What began as a cacophony of ridiculous sound polished up in a few minutes. Jessie patiently demonstrated the technique. We paid careful attention to how she held her tongue at the back of her throat, dropping the last note into the gutter to get the ‘all’ at the end.
Darkness was complete. Those with flashlights guided us back down the trail to the bonfire. Alas, no barred owls were heard. But it really didn’t matter. We had fun, we learned, and we bonded in the way strangers only can; by acting silly together.
And all of us will remember how we correctly learned to say in owl language that night, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you,all?”