When Soren Bondrup-Nielsen set out for the forests of northern Ontario in 1976 to become the first Ontarian to locate the elusive boreal owl, he had little knowledge of what the animal looked like, where it nested or how it behaved; all he knew was that he was to listen for A Sound Like Water Dripping (Gaspereau Press). Yet he never faltered in his resolve to realize his dream. Along the way, he had to figure out how to build his own traps (which he eventually did by modifying an old wicker lawn chair), how to track the owls (he engineered his own sonic transmitters with paper clips and small watch batteries), and a lot of other things.
As he studied the feeding habits of boreals on wild mice, Bondrup-Nielsen remembered a story his friend had once told him about introducing a pet-store mouse to a snake that was used to eating wild field mice. The snake hesitated because the pet-store mouse showed no signs of fear, or recognition of the snake as predator. The snake took this naïveté for brashness, a potential threat, and so did not attack, even when the mouse sat on its back and groomed. Neither human nor boreal had ever seen each other before, so when Bondrup-Nielsen eventually found the owl he was able to reach out with his bare hands and pluck it off a low branch.
Sometimes you are the first in your family to go to university, or you sell all your possessions and embark on a travel adventure, or you get a new job that you had no business landing. You are nervous and scared and completely unprepared for the challenges, and you have two choices: admit weakness, or stand tall, feign confidence and reach out for the owl as if you’d been there before. Maybe it will fly away or maybe it will respect you. So it is with snakes and mice, bears and hikers, work, love and life.