Requiem for a Great Horned Owl by Maureen Eppstein

 I'm so intimidated by poets, especially the ones who seem capable of reaching through your rib cage and playing with the rhythm of your heart. Maureen is that kind of poet.

Requiem for a Great Horned Owl
by Maureen Eppstein

A warm late summer afternoon at Stanford University. I’d found a shady grove to sit and eat my lunchtime sandwich. As I strolled back to my office in Encina Hall, the administration building, I noticed several co-workers clustered under the huge live oak in front of the building, hugging each other and gazing at something on the ground. Uneasy, I hurried to join them. The looks on my friends’ faces confirmed my fears. ”Our” Great Horned Owl, who regularly roosted in the oak, lay crumpled on the ground.

I glanced back at the old sandstone building behind me. That spring, the owl and its mate had nested on a fourth floor windowsill of Encina’s east wing, which had been gutted by fire in 1972, ten years earlier, and was now uninhabited by humans. We delighted in seeing the fuzzy owlets emerge from behind the broken and boarded-up window and perch precariously on the stone sill. Owl parents returned with food, such as gophers and ground squirrels. Interoffice memoranda reported on the babies’ progress in learning to fly.

That year had seen a huge increase in ground squirrels on the university grounds. We learned that the groundskeepers had laid an anti-coagulant poison to try to reduce the damage to trees and bushes. The most likely cause of the owl’s death was a poisoned rodent. Angrily, staff and students demanded that the Grounds Dept. cease using the poison.

They desisted for a while. But fourteen years later, a local newspaper, the Palo Alto Weekly, did a follow-up story. It quotes the Manager of Grounds, who does not recall that there was a clear link between the death of the owl and ground squirrel poison. But whatever was said 14 years ago, one thing is clear. Stanford is once again controlling the ground squirrel population with poison. For nearly a year, Stanford has been killing ground squirrels by giving them food laced with an anti-coagulant, which causes the animals to internally bleed to death over several days. The program has upset campus bird watchers, many of whom remember what happened to the owl family.

This year, I decided to follow up. I read on Stanford’s website that the university had launched an Integrated Pest Management program in 1997, the year after the Palo Alto Weekly article appeared. Since then, the Grounds department at Stanford has been dedicated to using an integrated pest management approach to provide suppression and long-term control of pests on campus, with the least amount of impact to the environment, non-target organisms and human health.

Herb Fong, who was Grounds manager during the 1980s and ‘90s, is now retired, but agreed to inquire on my behalf as to the department’s policies. Today I had excellent news. Herb writes: “I confirmed with staff that they are continuing to use trapping as the means to control the ground squirrels and no baits are used on the campus.”

If an 8,180-acre campus, mostly woods and grasslands, can stop using poisons, so can any other property whose owners care about wildlife.

A New Year's Wish

Dear Friends,

Baby River Otter
When I started this blog 5 months ago, I wondered what I would find to write about. That probably sounds odd coming from a 'writer' but maintaining a blog is different from working on a novel. So in a conversation with Susan Bono, who helped me set this up, I bemoaned my ability to think of anything to say on any regular basis. She asked a really simple question: "What do you care most about?"

Any one of the nearly 5000 people who have since read this blog could tell me that, but I said, "Well, I don't know. I do save all the animal pictures and stories people send me, and I'd like to publish some of the letters I get from kids."


So all I've really done is recycle. 
(And steal from Google images.)

Apparently, a lot of you are willing to take a moment to wallow with me in my affection for animals: the joy they take in life, and the concern we share for their plights. They, like us, are emotional beings, capable of love, grief, joy, and pain. My goal has always been to try to expose that to the kids who read my books--allow them to connect with nature and the beings with whom we share this planet, as I did when I was a child.

People ask why my novels are categorized as books for teens when so many adults read them. I don't know. We are a species who needs to put things in recognizable boxes. We are human; they are not being the ultimate crate we've stuffed full with the rest of the planet's species. So, here is my New Year's wish for you. May you be given the gift of experiencing life like this animal and this child playing together, and may you never let the glass we see each other through turn to stone.

I'm going out of town for a couple weeks. If I can figure out how to blog from afar, I will. Otherwise, HAPPY NEW YEAR
     Thank you my friends.