I read the story and saw the photo of the Snowy Owl in a recent issue of the Times-Tribune and I got the idea for this week’s column. I hope you enjoy the story of “The Owl in the Outhouse.”
When my father-in-law, Clarence, passed away, he left his wooded property on the east shore of Beaver Dam Lake to my wife, Molly. Clarence bought this property near the end of World War II so his father, Charles, would have a fishing place on the lake. He hauled an old “cooking wagon” on to the property.
Years ago, the road construction crews would haul one of these wagons to the work site. We discovered that the “cabin” and lot were in need of much cleaning up and repair. We spent the first two summers doing this chore.
Unfortunately, a leaking roof had totally damaged the old wood ice box and antique fainting couch in the place and they had to be removed by shoveling out the remains. We put on a new roof and added new windows and then electricity was installed. We brought a set of bunk beds into the trailer for the boys and a nice hide-a-bed from St. Vinnys for Molly and I. We also put in a dorm sized refrigerator.
We spent most weekends in the spring, summer and fall up in Beaver Dam. There was no insulation in the old trailer, so it was not a place to go in the winter. However, the old Monarch cooking range that was there had grates so we could chase the chill out of the place by having a wood fire on cool evenings. We enjoyed being away from a phone on the weekends, but the boys sometimes grumbled about no TV.
We had lots of creatures share the lot with us — all kinds of different birds and squirrels, and even an owl or two made their homes in the trees. We had ducks and geese in the lake and quite a few fish for catching.
Besides the trailer, there was a stone boat house built by Molly’s dad and grandfather years ago, and an old outhouse. The pit for the outhouse was covered over years ago and the small building was used to store tools, lawn games and lawn chairs.
One Saturday, my brother Al brought his wife, Cheryl, up to Beaver Dam along with his kids, Shelly and Chad, to spend the day with us. We had a great day fishing, hiking down by the springs and playing lawn games. As evening came on we built a campfire and roasted hot dogs and had s’mores for dessert. We then sat around the campfire, told ghost stories and visited. It was a great summer night for a camp fire. We commented on how neat it was that a couple of hoot owls could be heard talking back-and-forth from the trees behind us.
About nine o’clock my brother said that they had better think about heading back to Madison. He got up and started walking back toward the cabin. All of a sudden, I heard a commotion behind me and Al said, “What the heck!” I turned around and my brother said that a young owl suddenly flew by his head and into a clothes line that we had strung between two trees over by the outhouse. I shined the flashlight in the direction of the outhouse and we saw a small owl wobble over and hop into the building.
I went over to the building and shined my light inside and two big yellow eyes shined back at me. The young owl was up on a shelf, nestled among the paint cans. We tried coaxing him out. Then we took a cane pole and poked it near him and that didn’t work either. We tried banging on the outside of the building and he just inched in deeper among the cans. Finally, I said we should just leave it alone with the door open and it would probably move out over night.
The next morning I checked and the owl was still in there. We left the door wide open and did not go near the building all day, but the owl wouldn’t budge. It was time to go back to DeForest and our unwanted house guest was still in the outhouse. I told my next door neighbor, Manny Zimmerman, about the outhouse owl and said I was leaving the door open on the building and asked if he would close the door after the owl left.
When I pulled in the driveway the following Friday afternoon, I was relieved to see the door was closed. Manny told me about the exciting exit of the owl. When he came back from work that Monday afternoon, he could see the owl was still in residence. He went into his house and put on a heavy long sleeved shirt, an old fishing hat and a pair of heavy leather gloves. He went over to the outhouse. The feathered friend was watching him all the way and started to huff up. Manny did not see that mother owl was watching from a tree just a few feet away. As he got to the door and reached up, the young bird swooped out and at the same time mother owl came screaming down at Manny. Manny ducked, lost his hat and saw mommy and junior owl go screeching off. He hadn’t seen them since then.
About a week later, I saw the owls were back again and they took up new perches further from the house and closer to the lake. Needless to say whenever we opened the outhouse door we made sure that it was closed right away! We had many campfires after that, but I never heard the owls hooting in the background. No more campfire excitement for them!