The Owl in the Supermarket
by Katherine Allen
“Emily, where do owls live?” my little sister Molly asked one morning while we were standing in line at the local supermarket.
“In the forest,” I replied, not really paying attention.
“Well, then... Why is there one here?”
“Huh?” I looked around. “Here?”
“Yes, right up there,” Molly said, pointing to the rafters. Sure enough there was a little owl there. “Oh, Emily, isn’t it cute! But how are they going to get it down?”
That stumped me. “I don’t know, baby. Maybe we can look it up when we get home.”
The little gray owl looked down on this large, bright and very strange forest. Who were the predators? Who could he hunt? He looked down, staring at this world.
“No!” Molly said, putting her stubborn face on. “I want to ask somebody here. The... The... What’s the store boss called?”
“The Manager?” I offered.
“Yes, The manager. I want to ask the Manager. Please!!” She pleaded “Hon, we need to get home.” I replied, knowing I had lost the battle.
“PLEASE!! I really want to know.” Molly begged. And I, being the mush heart that I am, gave in.
“Oh, Okay. Hurry though!”
The little gray owl looked down, staring at the animals in this strange forest. A young mother looked up and saw the little gray owl staring. The first thought in her head was, “Oh, what if that bird comes and gets my baby?” Her uncle had told her once that they do that. She decided to hurry up and leave.
Molly looked around and then went up to a young woman who worked there. “Excuse me,” she asked, “Who’s the manager?”
The girl smiled, “He is,” she replied, pointing to an older gentleman.
“Thank you.” Molly then walked toward the man. “Excuse me, sir, are you the manager?”
The little gray owl stared down. One man looked up and thought, “What’s he looking at. Dumb bird. Probably will poop all over the produce. They should shoot those things.”
The gentleman looked down at Molly and grinned. “Yes I am.” Then, bending down, he said, “What can I do for you, young lady?”
“How are you going to get the owl down?” Molly asked, suddenly shy.
“The owl? What owl?” He asked, bewildered
“The one in the roof. Up there.” Molly replied pointing.
The gentleman’s smile faded as his eyes followed her hand. “Well, I’m afraid we are going to have to shoot it with a BB gun.”
The little gray owl looked down, he saw a young face look up. It looked scared and sad and worried. He saw an old face look up. It looked sad and wise.
“Will it... die?” Molly asked, on the verge of tears.
“Well now”maybe not! BB pellets are very small,” he replied. I could tell from his voice that it wasn’t very likely.
“If it doesn’t die, what will you do with it?’
“We will set it free.”
The little gray owl looked down, watching all these things with a wise look on his little gray face.
“I promise,” he said. Then another person called him away, and we left.
“Emily,” Molly asked as we walked home. “Will the owl die?”
“I don’t know, baby, I’m afraid it probably will, though.”
“We can hope though, can’t we?”
“Yes baby, of course we can hope.” As we walked together in silence I thought to my self, “Yes, we can always hope.”
The little gray owl looked down, seeing people come and people go. He saw the little girl and her sister go. He saw the man go. He saw the woman go. He saw them all go, until they all had gone, and the large bright forest went dark.
The manager went into his office and prepared to finish his work and go home. One of his nasty jobs tonight would be to get rid of the owl. He dreaded it. But, it was his job. He reached into his desk and got out the BB gun. He walked until he saw the owl. It stared down at him. In the darkness you could barely make out its body. But its large yellow eyes glowed, like two lamps. The owl just sat there never moving, or making a sound. It just stared. The manager raised the gun, he was a very good shot, he had hunted for years, and undoubtedly he would get his target. He aimed, put his finger on the trigger... and couldn’t pull it. Those eyes stared at him. He couldn’t shoot it.
He went back to his office and picked up the telephone. He called a friend in the animal protection program, telling him that there was an owl in the store. A little while later a car pulled up. A man walked into the store carrying a ladder and a net. Once he got in the store he set up the ladder, got the owl down and prepared to leave. “What are you going to do with it?” The store manager asked.
“I’ll take it out into the woods and set it free.” The man replied.
“Let me come and let it go. Please. I promised a little girl I would.” They both got into the car. The manager had the owl sitting on his finger. The little owl just stood there, staring at him with those big, solemn, wise yellow eyes.
The little gray owl stood on the finger of this strange animal. After pointing something at him, he had gone and another had come back and grabbed him. They weren’t hurting him, so he just stood and stared.
The car pulled into a park on the outskirts of town. The two men got out and walked into the woods. The manager held up his hand and let go of the owl’s talons. The owl turned its head and stared at him. Then he flew off into the distance.
The little gray owl stared at this strange old animal. He blinked, rose off the finger and flew into the forest, hooting quietly, looking for his mate.
Copyright © 2004 by Katherine Allen
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Orphaned Eagle Owl
Photo by Sandra Boshoff
Ratho Farm, Zambia
Grey phase Eastern Screech Owl; photo by:
Robert S. Mulvihill, Project Coordinator
2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas
Field Ornithology Projects Coordinator
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Powdermill Nature Reserve; Rector, Pennsylvania