RANCHO: Snowy Owl

When Snowy Owl arrived a few weeks ago in Cypress, it created a lot of commotion since they do not travel this far south or west.  How the artic bird got here is unknown. A storm, a container ship or was Snowy Owl someone’s (illegal) pet?  This weekend I saw that my friend Scott Templeton went to see the Snowy Owl and took some beautiful photos.   I had been interested in my own trip to Snowy Owl. 

Photo courtesy Scott Templeton

I was scheduled to see my 89-year-old mother on Saturday. I was bringing her a book, Hollywood: An Oral history.  In 1969, AFI began interviewing old timers who were at the inception of the motion picture industry.  AFI assessed the old peeps were dying and they wanted to get their histories before they all were gone. Once they began interviewing, they never stopped. I believe they are still interviewing directors, writers, and crafts people. All the anecdotes have been stitched together to tell the tale of movie making from beginning to present day.  For the last couple of years, I have been reading nonfiction focused on social justice and protecting the greater good.  All terrific books, but I sometimes drop into a little lighter fare. My friend gave me Hollywood: Oral History last month. 

While I appreciate the cinema stories, I also love neighborhood history and the pioneers waxing about Sunset which was NOT a boulevard and was not even paved.  Or stories of Edendale in Silverlake, dusty with its steep hills and was the center of silent comic movies. Keystone Kops and Charlie Chaplin made great use of the terrain. The first thrown pie in the face was in Edendale. I am still trying to figure out what was “Elbow beach” in Santa Monica Bay.  Visionaries, people at the right time and place, dreamers, and of course, the tales driving to Universal on Cahuenga that was an old stagecoach route barely a road, all of it scratches my itch.  My mother has watched a lot of films, has some appreciation of LA history and I thought she might enjoy the book and more to point, the easy-to-read format. 

For my drive to Long Beach, I switched to audible version of the book to listen to on my trip.   Several years ago, I gave up driving freeways, I wasn’t on them much and one day I had to get on the 10 and 5 and that was when I realized I had lost my freeway juju and so I stopped. My drives takes longer but the truth is I love driving streets. I like seeing the old businesses on old boulevards. One man’s dream on 1930s Hawthorne Boulevard is still providing someone’s livelihood in 2023. A longline at Bluebird Liquor on Hawthorne its supposed power to generate winners reminded me that I would have to get a lottery ticket for 1.1 billion jackpot. Birds seemed to be a theme. 

In Torrance I stopped to get a tea and I reached out to Deborah (Scott’s wife) for the address of Snowy Owl, I thought that it might not be that far from Long Beach. She sent Scott’s map of the bird’s sightings. After I gave my mother the book, which she seemed to be excited about, we then went to lunch. I calculated from our restaurant to Snowy Owl was about 12-minute drive. I didn’t tell my mother what we were doing except that I had an errand, and she might enjoy it. 

Navy Weapon Station and wetlands (Wikipedia)

The path to Cypress meant taking a road that goes through a vast undeveloped area that belongs to the navy and includes wetlands. There are few areas undeveloped in the Los Angeles basin and when I am in one of those areas my mind enters a wormhole where Tongva or Chumash are nearby and then Spanish and then orange and citrus farmers and all the settlers for the last three centuries. It’s my pretend brain. When we crossed the San Gabriel River, full of the rains, I could feel Tongva poking around finding dinner in the vast marshlands. I could not help but think of Jujubit, what is believed to be the largest Tongva village before Europeans arrived. It was a few miles to the north of our destination. What would have they thought of Snowy Owl’s arrival? I kept those thoughts, like I usually do to myself. My mother pointed out the snow on the San Gabriels. We both agreed it was beautiful. How funny she keyed into the snow. 

Finding Snowy Owl is a bit like trying to find a party. Where are the cars? Where are people crossing the street? There were a lot of vehicles on Onyx Street. I asked a young woman if she saw the owl she said yes and told me, “He’s on a roof down that block. A woman has opened her gate so people can go in her backyard to see him.” 

When we started walking, I finally explained to my mother what we were doing. She said, “Sounds good.” There were many cars, I noted bird decals, I also saw animal lover stickers. Apparently, a dog walker who had a business logo on the side of the car was interested in Snowy Owl. The backyard looked like a UN assembly. All walks of life and cameras everywhere. From phones to equipment with professional huge zoom lenses. Everything was pointing up to the roof of the home from 1960s. 

I guided my mother onto a small dirt rise next to a cinderblock fence. From that vantage we could see Snowy Owl on the neighbor’s roof. His back to us but I waited for him to turn and when he did you heard the ooos and ahhs. He was the star and we were the paparazzi. 

Snowy Owl from iphone -Jan 7, 2023

After taking our photos, we were about to leave when my mother mentioned she would like an orange from the tree on the other side of the cinderblock fence. The man from that yard heard her and picked one and washed it off. He gave it to my mother, and we talked about Snowy Owl. He said that that the bird was eating mice, gophers, rabbits from the navy airport a few blocks to the west. I thought an airport for Navy Birds helps a lone artic bird. I then asked, “What about when it gets hotter, what’s going to happen to him?” The man hesitated and then said, “I’ve been watching the owl for three weeks. He always goes to the heat vent. I think he is a lost pet.” I said, “You don’t think he was from the artic?” “Nope, why would an artic owl go for the heat vent?” 

Ahh. 

On the drive back home up Hawthorne Blvd, I listened to anecdotes of old Hollywood and the hard work of make believe and I thought of Snowy Owl. His white feathers, long wings, tap the wonderment psyche of humans compelled to pilgrimage, Snowy Owl could be a lost pet or got here on his own, but he is beautiful and cloaked in a mystery and that’s good enough for me and it appeared to be good enough for a nearly 90-year-old gal with a fresh picked orange, born in the land of Tongva, six years after motion pictures got sound. I also got a lottery ticket. Dreams in RanchoLand

Stephenie, author’s mother with orange.

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