Here’s another piece in the distinctive style of Nath Jones. A “Best New American Voices” nominee, Jones received an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her publishing credits include PANK Magazine, There Are No Rules, and Sailing World. She lives and writes in Chicago.

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By Nath Jones

What else? You know, it’s really the story of that Great Horned Owl in Drexel Woods.

So. When I was a kid there was an abandoned Indian Normal School with broken windows in these woods surrounded by cornfields on three sides and a state highway on the fourth.

Someone, maybe him, had heard the owl there. Dad rousted us out of bed in the middle of the night, whizzed over to the college in either the Nova or the Citation, got out of the car, and started shouting, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!” repeatedly up into the trees.

How could we take this seriously? I had a lot of respect for my father. The guy had more dignity than almost anyone I know. But. In that moment? Really, Dad?

Then he’d stop, keep looking up, and say, “Girls!”

Well. Mom was stifling her laughs in the front seat trying to be a good example for her children. Genny? I don’t know. She was either asleep or uninvolved. Inert somehow. Probably in as much disbelief as I was. But. Me?

Jesus. I was in middle school. My father was shouting monosyllables up into the dark heights of trees. I just wanted out.  But he was so excited.


I mean, this guy loved birds. And. So. Okay. Yes. I would have loved to have shared my father’s enthusiasm in the moment.

“Do you hear it!?!”

No. No, I didn’t hear it. There was nothing. I heard my sister shifting to get more comfortable in the car, heard her head quietly thump against what might have been a rolled up sweatshirt on the glass. Cars were going by every once in a while on 231. I heard that. There was a little breeze so, yes, I heard the oaks moving in the night. But nothing else. No owl.

"It may be gone..."

Deflated, he admitted, “It may be gone.”

Really? You think? For twenty-five minutes he’d been hooting up that owl going, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!” up into the blackness around all those trees. And for twenty-five minutes, nothing returned his call.

Dad might have stayed forever, wanting, needing, insisting, hoping, waiting, listening, listening so hard, desiring so much to share the wonder of it, the rarity, the once-in-a-lifetime encounter, the whole perfect moment, if my mother hadn’t said, “Duvall. The girls have school in the morning.”

I didn’t say a word. Nothing. But. Yeah. It was there. Come on, Dad. It’s gone. Or. Not talking to you. Or. Something. But. Can we please go home and go back to bed?

He looked up into the night. He looked back into the car. “Girls! I want you to hear it.” He could have climbed into the sky, would have if it were possible, surely cupped his hands around his mouth, and called again.

“Did you hear it?”

You cannot—cannot—tell your birdwatching father that you hear the call of a Great Horned Owl if you don’t. It betrays all sense of familial honor. Just eyes into the night, all of us, together.

I said, “No, Dad. I don’t hear it,” no matter what he wanted for me, no matter what he needed me to share of what was most his in this life and experience. He didn’t have to have it. But he had to try, at least once more.

So through that uplifted jawline, through those opened-prayer curves of his two cupped hands, I just heard, hopeful forever, one voice to the sky, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!”

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