This past Tuesday, October 15, I was running along a wooded trail in Edmonds, Washington at dusk when I felt a subtle stirring of the air around my head and heard the muffled flutter of something vast. I turned to see a placid white face fixed with bottomless black eyes descending on me between a pair of two powerful wings.
Instinctively, I made a brief swatting motion in an attempt to shoo my strigiform assailant only to watch in horror as the bird hovered behind me like a ghost, undeterred. It swooped again. Viscerally aware of the sharpness of its talons and the delicacy of my eyes, I swatted again, torn between fight and flight (a human idiom which in this case means trying to deflect a large predatory bird or run very fast).
When the bird insisted on swooping a third time, I committed. I began grunting loudly and tried to punch the plucker straight out of the air. When my feathered foe at last relented, I sped off, sprinting the rest of the way through the woods with my hands held above my head like a terrified cartoon character to prevent any further advances on my noggin.
This incident marks the third time since moving to Seattle that I have been attacked or hunted by a member of your order, and I really think it’s time we talk about this.
The first time, I assumed it was a misunderstanding. I had been in Seattle for less than a week; you all didn’t know me yet. I was running in Discovery Park at dusk wearing mostly black; I was difficult to see. I felt a little grasp at my winter hat and saw one of you ruffle to roost on a nearby branch.
No harm. No fowl. Mistakes happen.
The second time, I was upset. I had been living in Seattle for over a year and had become a regular in Discovery Park. You all certainly knew me and my distinctive stride by then. The sky had barely begun to dim, and I was not straying from my usual course.
And yet, halfway through my run, I felt a sudden clutch at the back of my neck and the cold drag of claws across my nape. When I inspected my neck in the mirror that evening, there were a pair of thin, crimson cuts etched behind my ear.
My hair was long at that point and bounced chipperly as I ran. It would be easy to mistake it for a squirrel I told myself, trying to salvage my affection for one of my most beloved animals. Yet, I have grown comfortable at the top of the food chain, and I could not shake the cold sense of dread that I had just been hunted.
After three attacks, I can no longer coerce myself into the belief that these attacks are accidental or convince myself that you’re just trying to deliver me my Hogwarts acceptance letter. Now, I demand to know why the owls of Washington State have chosen me to prey upon.
I will have you know that you all used to be one of my favorite animals. I mourned Hedwig’s death at the hands of the Death Eaters. My friend mailed me an owl comic book for my birthday one year. My parents even bought me a pink felt owl ornament for Christmas. I named him Otis and have insisted on designating him the tree-topper in place of a frickin’ angel every year since! I really liked you guys! I was a fan!
So, when you all began hunting me, it felt like the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race had started egging my house and slashing my car tires or like Lady Gaga had decided to cyberbully me. All I’ve ever done is love you!
I do not ask for an apology, though. At this point, I’m not sure our relationship can be salvaged. Simply seeing a photo of a barn owl sends a primal shiver down my spine. Trail running has become a paranoid practice of scanning the air space above and behind me for potential threats. The damage has been done.
I would, however, appreciate an explanation. What have I done to deserve your airborne ire? Did I make an accidental advance on one of your nests? Was it that time that I made an “owl’s well that ends well pun”? Or was it because I’ve stopped doing my Duolingo? I’m sorry! I know I haven’t been keeping the owl happy! I never even bought him the little tracksuit! I’ll practice Italian every day if it will literally keep you out of my hair! Just tell me!
And if I can’t get an explanation, could we at least come to some sort of truce and find a way to peacefully coexist in this ample, incredible city?
Perhaps we could work together to draft a map negotiating the city’s trails into distinct running and hunting zones. Or we could devise a schedule for these activities so that I can log my miles peacefully and you can prey on juicy mice without worrying about an errant runner scaring them off. I’m confident that we can find a solution that will keep us all happy and unlacerated.
So, if you would like to discuss this matter, I will be at the South Beach overlook in Discovery Park this Sunday evening at 6:15 p.m. I will be the man in ski goggles and a thick turtleneck.
I look forward to seeing you then and to putting an end to all the ruffled feathers and unnecessary roughness.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.