Crosby Farm Regional Park began as a 160 acre farm in1858 by Thomas Crosby whose family raised cattle, dairy cows, horses, pigs, and chickens as well as crops of potatoes and apples. They farmed the land until 1886. It was farmed by other families until the 1960‘s when the Saint Paul Port Authority obtained it and leased it to the City of Saint Paul as a park. The 763 acres of park is the largest natural park in the Saint Paul system of parks. (National Park Service) It is now one of the most beautiful urban parks, a good place to catch sight of native animal species such as the fox snake, the snapping turtle, owls, hawks, deer and birds on their spring and fall migrations. According to the National Park Service web site, “The park protects mostly floodplain forest and adjacent steep, wooded slopes cloaked mostly in oak forest, a scattering of wetlands and small lakes (Crosby Lake and Upper Lake), and the Mississippi River shoreline. When the Mississippi River floods, fish and other aquatic animals gain access to the small lakes which act as nurseries for their offspring.”
This morning a usually quiet walk through the floodplain forest was interrupted by the frantic chirps of chickadees and nuthatches. I looked up to see a barred owl with dark luminous eyes staring down from a poplar. The song birds were not afraid to swoop and dive at the stately owl. Barred owls typically eat rodents though they have been known to swoop at birds eating from feeders. They begin their courtship in winter and make their nests in hollowed out trees, sometimes taking over the nests of other birds such as the pileated woodpecker. They lay their eggs in February or March. They are nonmigratory. (Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center, Marine on St. Croix, MN) More and more they are establishing themselves in suburban neighborhoods. Their main predators are larger owls, and as a result of urbanization of habitat, they are at risk from cars.
In Greek mythology the owl, along with Athena is considered to be the guardian of wisdom. In Christian Gnostics, it is associated with Lilith, the first wife of Adam who refused to submit. Many people believe that when an animal appears to you, it comes with a message from the other world, the world of the unseen. What wisdom did the owl, creature of the night come to impart? Perhaps its steadfastness is a reminder to stay focused or perhaps its ability to adapt to the influences of human development and urbanization is a warning that we are all at risk of losing our lifeblood, natural habitat. To me the owl’s presence suggests the importance of cultivating my connection with what is wild. The owl and the walk through the ancient woods reminds me I am of the wilderness too. In the next moment, it spread its great wings and flew to a higher perch. I walked to the river edge; my dogs leaped and frisked on the beach. There was a small sheet of ice beginning to form at the shoreline. Everything was quiet again, just the crackling of ice and the distant roar of the freeway.