With out Barry the Central Park Owl, What Will We Do?

“She became our friend during a time when we couldn’t easily see friends,” said Meredith Pahoulis, a creative director and photographer. “It was a gift — she arrived at the perfect time. From freezing cold winter nights to hot summer nights, she was always there and I always knew where I could see her.”

Molly Eustis, a stage manager who found herself unemployed when theaters closed, affectionately described the owl as a little round “potato,” perched in a tree, with an impossibly cute “cinnamon roll face.” Seeing her for the first time in December was a magical moment: “This lone owl in the middle of the city in Central Park, in the snow, on the solstice, when I was feeling like a lone human after nearly a year of the pandemic, out of work, and not being able to travel to see my family for the holidays for the first time ever in my life.”

For me, Barry’s sudden death brought back memories of that sense of loss I felt as a child, reading all those sad animal books like “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Red Pony” and “Old Yeller,” and that many kids today feel reading about the sudden death of Hedwig in the last Harry Potter novel. If such books underscore the unforgiving cycle of life, Mr. Barrett observes that Barry’s death also reminds us that many “birds lead short lives.” An estimated “50 to 70 percent die in their first year. And even after that, bird mortality is high. But we generally don’t see them die,” he said. Rather, they “die in obscurity.”

Jenifer P. Borum, a writer and teacher who’d been sick with Covid, said following Barry through Central Park helped her to regain her strength. “Barry’s act of flying through our lives brought out the best in us,” she said. “We forged ties with her. Our group comprised people who might not have socialized otherwise.” The night of the vigil, it felt like that was “beginning to disperse and it made me sad.”

But the next owl, she hopes, will also bring the group and future owl watchers together.

“We will look for her in the next owl’s eyes. Though no owl will compare, ever.”

Michiko Kakutani is the author of the book “Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Re-Read.” Follow her on Twitter: @michikokakutani and on Instagram: @michi_kakutani

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