The Reader’s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
Once upon a time, the Reader ran a regular biweekly column about urban wildlife. It was called Field & Street and was written primarily by Jerry Sullivan. Sullivan, who died in 2000, was associate director for land management with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and a keen and admiring observer of animals in and around Chicago. (His columns were later collected into a book, Hunting for Frogs on Elston, and Other Tales from Field & Street.) He also had a sense of humor about his work. In a 1987 column about butterfly collecting, he wrote:
I also loved the collecting because it gave me a chance to run through the fields waving a butterfly net. There was a time when a fondness for birding was enough to establish your reputation as a true eccentric. But lately, birding has shown signs of becoming rather depressingly mainstream. A couple of months ago, Time magazine discovered it; and the new Life devotes several pages to a review of top birding spots. Bird-watchers are becoming as ordinary as bass fishermen, but a butterfly net is still the mark of a loony.
Sullivan began writing his column in January 1987. January happens to be one of the best times to see a snowy owl in Chicago, and it was a subject he returned to frequently, perhaps anticipating the popularity of snowy owls after Harry Potter adopted Hedwig.
“You can see snowy owls every winter if you go out and look for them,” Sullivan wrote,
and regardless of your knowledge of—or attitude toward—birds, you will probably think the sight of a snowy owl is a big deal. It is very difficult to be indifferent to an owl, especially a big owl and even more especially to a big white owl with yellow eyes. Sparrows are just birds, but owls are bearers of messages from the realm of the supernatural and often omens in their own right. Flush a snowy owl from a Lake Michigan beach and watch that broad five-foot wingspan raise that heavy body from the ground, and you won’t forget it.
The mild weather might be a good excuse to go find a snowy owl for yourself.