Sunday, July 26, 2009

Other Owls, Number Two -- Spooky

If you grew up in the Boston area it is very likely that you've been to the Museum of Science. It was either that best day of the school year, the field trip, or you had parents that gave a damn (or if you were very lucky, both), but you've probably got the tour. You've sat in the Apollo capsule, seen feathers in a vacuum, measured yourself against the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and covered your ears when the Van de Graff generator started to pop. Amidst all the fun you may even have been given the gift of a little knowledge, a sense of wonder, and a curiosity about the cosmos.

If it has been a long time since you were on a field trip to the MOS, you may have had the good fortune to meet Spooky, a great horned owl. From the museum's opening in 1951 until his death in 1989 Spooky was the place's official mascot. He was an ambassador from the natural world and a teacher to thousands of children. I was a very little boy when I saw Spooky. His keeper brought him out to see us and he obligingly stretched his wings to show how big he was. I was greatly impressed. Spooky turned his head in that odd way that owls have. My eyes must have been wide. So were his, of course, and they seemed to see everything. The keeper told us about how owls hunt and how owls eat and all about owl pellets and such. Spooky stood on his perch, looking quite grand. He had heard all this before. He flapped his wings once, unexpectedly. The young audience shuddered. I like to think he was amused.Spooky was 38 years old when he died, which I am told is a record. He was a grand old bird, patient with children, and a good teacher. He may have done more good than he could have ever known.

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