Owl of Me...

Trigger warning: this story involves dead animals. Well, birds, mostly.

I had a delightfully quirky high school biology teacher. Knute Wallin loved puns. Perpetrated them at every occasion. If he wore wool socks in the winter, he'd quip "Mitosis cold." He told about the mycologist who was such a fun-gi. The student who took a lichen to her teacher. I could go on... A great many of us came out of sophomore Biology with the malady. Some of us (looking in the mirror) have never been cured.

It's because of him that I had a brief flirtation with taxidermy. He'd read of a shortcut method for very small creatures called liquidermy, involving injecting the late critter with formaldehyde every two centimeters or so, then posing and drying it. Excited with the possibilities, he recruited my brother John and me to try the procedure out, which is how we wound up with a barn swallow, a rose-breasted grosbeak and a black-billed cuckoo hanging on our living room walls. (Disclaimer: We didn't kill any of them--most were picture window casualties.) We even preserved and mounted a coot for him, a practical joke on Doc Olson, who'd shot it duck hunting while facing into the sun, and insisted it was a wood duck or mallard. Coot are not what you'd call fine dining--they don't call them mudhens for nothing--and we posed it on a circular plaque painted bright red-orange.

The best bit of taxidermy in the Biology lab wasn't our work, though. Somebody had hit a juvenile Snowy Owl with their car one winter, and brought it in to school. They're not native to Wisconsin, but some particularly hard winters, they'll migrate that far south. Mr. Wallin got a permit from Fish and Wildlife and had a professional taxidermist mount it properly. I still remember how imposing it was, a good two feet tall, snowy white with chocolate brown flecks and piercing golden eyes.

Snowy owls aren't normally found in Oregon, either, though we had an influx of them a few winters back. I came across a photo recently in a National Geographic, and decided to introduce them to my winter pottery environment. Look for them on bowls, bakers, pitchers and cookie jars, owl manner of things.

They're a hoot, Mr. Wallin would say.