Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Nature’s Pilots

The Owl Tree and me

I was absolutely heartsick! There's no other way to describe it. It's as if a good friend had died, which in a way was true. As I rounded the corner toward the gate to the ramp, I sensed something was wrong. I could see sky and roof line where they should have been hidden from sight by branches. Then, as I closed the distance, an alarm went off in my mind and in my heart: The Owl Tree had been cut down! Oh my god! Luckily, there was no one else in the car to hear the despair in my voice. I didn't want to believe what my eyes said was true. One of my good friends and fellow flyers at Scottsdale Muni, who had shared the air with me for over 20 years, had just been rendered homeless: The tree was gone, so my friend, a great horned owl, was also gone. Never to return.

I know this probably sounds silly to a lot of people. However, when my hangar mate, who flew F-100s and 105s during the Vietnam ugliness (he's definitely not a big softie), arrived, he said, "I can't believe it! Did you see they cut down the owl's tree? What's going to happen to him? I'm absolutely sick!" At that point, I knew I wasn't alone in my reaction.

From the day that I moved onto this airport in early '92, the "Owl Tree" has been a subject of great interest to just about every pilot I know. It was a well-developed eucalyptus with lots of big branches and leafy caverns that I quickly learned housed a great horned owl. Sometimes two. It grew right next to one of the main FBO buildings not more than 20 feet from the parking lot I passed on the way to my hangar every day. I got great pleasure out of pulling into that parking lot without saying a word to my student. Then I'd get out of the car and walk across the grass and start looking up into the tree searching for my friend.

My students had no idea what was going on. But, they'd follow me. And they'd look up into the tree, as I was doing, without having a clue why. Then, they'd spot those two big eyes staring down at us, as if my feathered friend was saying, "Oh okay, go ahead and look. You're not likely to see another like me anytime soon." And, of course, he was right.

Once in a while, it would leap into space, and those huge wings (as in more than six feet across) would suck energy out of the air and transform it into flight. He'd effortlessly soar across the parking lot, do a wing-over on the other side and glide back to his resting place without moving a wing. Show over, he'd ignore us and stare into space or simply nod off for a quick nap.

I can't begin to explain the feeling of watching him show off for us. He was incredibly majestic, and just the fact that he was willing to share his version of flight with us totally made our week.

Labels: FeaturesPilot Talk


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