During a rambunctious return to their Mount Sinai campus after...

During a rambunctious return to their Mount Sinai campus after seeing a musical in Northport, fourth-graders quickly passed a screech owl, at ease in its woodlot home. Credit: Kevin Walsh

      The energy was palpable as my fourth-grade class and I boarded the bus for our annual pilgrimage to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.  We departed our Mount Sinai campus for the musical “Matilda,” adapted from the children’s novel by Roald Dahl.
     For the students, this meant freedom from the confines of the classroom, and were they ever amped up!  Outnumbering me 26-1, they had me right where they wanted me.  I patrolled the bus aisle, ensuring each seat belt was securely fastened for their safety and my sanity.  Having learned a long time ago that limiting mobility limits shenanigans, I settled in for the rambunctious ride.
     Leaving the comfort of the Mount Sinai Elementary School walls results in a loss of control and ensuing anxiety.  In school, with students seated at their assigned desks, I need not worry about anyone succumbing to motion sickness.  The prospect of losing a student is nonexistent.  But after arriving, we would be 40 minutes from campus if anything went wrong.  
     And we arrived not a moment too soon, as the bouncing ride of the school bus had me feeling nauseated.  Meanwhile, the unfazed students were ushered inside, and the show began.

     Once again, the theatrical performance did not disappoint, and the students and I were left in awe by the talent.

     Boarding the bus for the final leg of our adventure home, I conducted a quick head count.  Everyone accounted for, and off we went.

     The students, excited by the sights and sounds they just witnessed, were busy with chatter.  I proceeded to calm my mind with the challenge of “What can I spot?”  Many hours of my youth were spent peering through the car windows as my parents drove us here and there. I’d search the roadsides for rabbits, woodchucks, deer, hawks and soaring vultures. Over the years, I’d trained my eyes to notice the slightest movement or oddity of outline and shape.  I derived much satisfaction from my acute peripheral vision and had garnered the nickname “Eagle Eye.”

     Time ticked by ever so slowly, yet mercifully we had nearly reached the school when I spotted something noteworthy.  Pointing outward, I hollered, “There’s an owl!  Right there!”

     “Where? Where?” echoed the students in unison.

     But by the time they looked in the right direction, the bus, traveling at the speed limit, had long since passed the woodlot.

     In stunned disbelief, I sat.  Amid the chaos around me, had I really spotted a serene owl?

     After enduring the remainder of the day, I escorted my students to their homeward-bound buses and hustled home for my camera.  A photograph was needed to prove to everyone, including myself, that I had indeed seen this owl.

     I arrived at the woodlot and there, sitting motionless in the cavity of a black locust tree, was a camouflaged eastern screech owl. Exactly as my mind’s eye recalled.

     In the fading light of day, I snapped a few photographs of the most impressive drive-by sighting of my lifetime.  All the while, the owl never opened an eye or twitched a feather.  Departing, I left the owl just as I found it. With evidence in hand, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of sharing the photos with my students the next day.

Reader Kevin Walsh lives in Miller Place.

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