One Way to Catch a Hoot Owl
Welcome to the April 2011 edition of
“Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.
One Way to Catch a Hoot Owl
But April 1st is probably the only time to try it . . .
There are many types of New England humor — that is, the understated variety, the overstated, put-downs, and so forth — but the one most utilized on the first day of April each year is that which endeavors to test the gullibility of the listener. The more gullible he or she turns out to be, the more laughter.
I well recall a certain April 1st on the Maine farm on which I was raised when I first encountered this particular type of New England humor. I was around 8 or 9 at the time and was going through a phase of collecting all sorts of screwy things, including, in particular, bird feathers for my father’s fly-tying hobby.
On this particular April morning, I was chatting with one of the farmhands while he was milking. (Yes, in those days, cows were hand-milked.) I mentioned to him I’d just spotted a little owl on the barn roof and how I wished I could figure out a way to get a couple of his feathers.
Casually, he asked me whether or not I was aware that most owls could turn their heads completely around as if rigged on a swivel. I said that that would be hard to believe but that even if it were true, it wouldn’t help me catch that little owl on the roof, would it?
He kept milking for a while and then, having set me up for what he had in mind — remember, this was April 1st — he said that he could give me a good tip. “Back when I was about your age,” he said, “I caught quite a few owls simply by walking around the tree on which they were perched. They’re very curious creatures, you see, so they had to keep an eye on me every step of the way. Eventually, they either passed out from having strangled themselves, or, in some cases, they actually broke their own necks.”
Of course, I took all this in hook, line, and sinker. I’m sure he was having a big laugh for himself as I hurried outside to try out his owl-catching technique on that little hoot owl still up there on the barn roof.
The things is, however, is that the laugh was on him. Believe it or not, his method worked — worked perfectly. That little owl never took his eyes off me as I circled the barn. Then I went around a second time. And a third time, at which point I noticed that the poor little guy was having difficulty breathing. I mean, he was twisting his neck like a pretzel, slowly shutting off his supply of air. But there was no way he was going to stop watching me, even for a second.
I was halfway around on my fourth trip when he fell over and rolled down the roof onto the ground. While I was picking a couple of feathers out of his tail, I noticed that his head was spinning backwards very rapidly, like a top. Finally, his neck having returned to normal, he recovered, took a few deep breaths, and flew away.
So that’s the end of the story. I wasn’t so gullible after all, was I? On the other hand, if you believe this story . . . well . . . all I can say is that you’d better be on guard from dawn to dusk on this coming first day of April.