Fourth grader and future ornithologist Abram Pender wakes up to a scream. It's a short, raspy call that sounds like a grandmother shouting for kids to vacate her lawn. However, he's unafraid. He's heard this call thousands of times before. After all, he invited its owner here. Now outside, he shines his flashlight in the direction of the nest boxes he's placed high off the ground, and its beam meets the white, confounded mask of a barn owl. The owl screams again, and Abram knows this is far from a song. The nature of a barn owl's call is to terrorize the area as much as necessary so prey will dart for safety, serving itself up for dinner.
Abram and Owls
The reason Abram wants to become an ornithologist is so he can see a barn owl up close. His pursuit isn't peculiar; most don't see barn owls up close in their lifetime. The closest we get to meeting a barn owl is often the flash of a stark white shape past our vehicle's windshields at night. While Abram admits he'd use one wish given to him to own a pet owl, he doesn't think the barn owl should sing him to sleep at night: "Their sound is like screaming." We ask him to imitate it for us, but he says it's too high-pitched for public consumption. We're immature; he's not– who knew?
In the meantime, while awaiting the barn owl encounter of his dreams, Abram spends his time on basketball drills, playing outside in general, and taking piano lessons, which he started in June. The piano, too, is another owl Abram wants to see up close. The call of the piano is often sweeter, and any discordant screams are either untrained or only heard in complex, abstract symphonies. He studies and appreciates folk music while he learns piano, a genre that is the feather heard on the flight path of the best music recorded today. He's also a voracious reader of fantasy (anything with a dragon in it) and history, specifically any topic dealing with the First or Second World War. Since he's such a barn owl connoisseur, he's probably heard of the trenches in France during the First World War, where barn owls often hunted during the day since their mouse supply was so plentiful.
He admires the character of and aspires to be his dad, mom, and cat, Pixie. He says he looks up to his mom because they enjoy spending time together. "We're really similar," he says, "I'm an outdoor child like her." His dad teaches him about new games and stuff in the fantasy genre he loves, and he says he respects his dad's intelligence.
Ottawa is a special place for him because it's his lifelong home and where his friends are. It doesn't grow more complicated than that for Abram, a self-described "weird" kid who isn't afraid to face down the Edgar Allan Poe-like construction of a barn owl's head for the fun of it. His dream is to live in the country and own horses, and we imagine that farm life enjoys keeping an owlery where he trains his army of barn owls to go forth, screech into everyone's waking hours, dive in front of moving vehicles, and groom their "facial discs" with their talons (gross). We just hope that Pixie and Abram's new owl friends learn to co-exist.