The great horned owls in our neighborhood have been hooting up a storm lately. These hooters are booming for good reason: they are looking for mates.
Horned owls mate and lay eggs in the dead of winter.
This is counter-intuitive until you realize that the owlets (if a pet store sold baby owls, would it be called The Owlet Outlet?) hit their peak growth just when mice and voles are starting to mate. It’s like being the parents of a brood of hungry teenagers and having an all-you-can-eat buffet move in next door.
Owls aren’t the only species to mate in midwinter. We humans are also part of the Winter Oscillation Whoopee Club.
But the impetus behind our cold weather assignations is very different from that of the owls’.
The main reason we humans indulge in wintertime romance is Valentine’s Day, a day when, by federal law, men must give a romantic card/something sparkly/something made of chocolate to their Significant Other. Failure to comply is punishable by death.
At least that’s the message we guys get from the ladies. No male has ever tested this edict – at least none that I know. This must mean that those who tried didn’t survive.
Every Feb. 13, we guys, upon realizing that the next day is Valentine’s, lurch into a panicked scramble. We could give red roses, but isn’t that a bit cliche? You can’t go wrong with jewelry, but that sparkly stuff is a minefield.
For instance, if your relationship is relatively new and you give her something shiny and expensive, what might she read into it? Will she call all her girlfriends, then sprint off to housewares and start picking out china?
It’s much easier for ladies to find Valentine’s gifts for gents. Compared to women, we guys are extremely uncomplicated. Want to make us happy? Simply show up wearing something slinky and bring food. The food part is optional.
As with most such things, training for Valentine’s Day began when we’re quite young. I clearly recall how Miss Schmitt, my second-grade teacher, announced that a special day would soon arrive, an event called Valentine’s.
I had no clue what this “Valentine’s” thing was. But judging by the level of Miss Schmitt’s excitement, I knew it had to be absolutely electrifying. Maybe it involved attending a carnival. I really liked carnivals.
But, no. We were next told that we needed to bring a shoebox to school. Our boxes, Miss Schmitt explained, would serve as Valentine’s mailboxes. We could decorate our boxes with hearts or flowers or whatever romantic iconography we chose. Nobody decorated their shoebox with anything other than hearts or flowers.
As we cut and pasted construction paper, Miss Schmitt told us about Valentine’s Day and its meaning. “Perhaps someday some of you girls will get a special ring on Valentine’s Day,” she said. I think Miss Schmitt was hoping for such a ring. It was said that she had a boyfriend, some guy who was quite old – about 30.
Anticipation grew as the big day neared. All the girls hoped to receive lots of Valentines. All the boys hoped to receive none.
Our Valentine’s party was a tableau of controlled chaos as three dozen second\-graders all played postman (or postwoman). Once the cards were delivered, we were told to take our seats and open our boxes.
I am not the least bit artistic, so my box was decorated quite poorly. It didn’t seem worthy of even one Valentine card. Which would be a relief. I guess.
Opening my box, I was surprised to see that it contained several cards. Most were from my male classmates and were goofy and generic. Their moms had no doubt decreed that they give a card to everyone in the class.
But one card was different. It was from a girl named Laurie and was printed with an image of a demure Minnie Mouse. Most troubling was the small candy heart taped inside, a heart that had the words “Be Mine” on it.
My head swam. What did this mean? Were we now engaged? Would I have to meet her parents? I hated meeting new people! Couldn’t I just go to a carnival instead?
I decided that the best course was to ignore both the card and Laurie. Studiously. With great care.
I later learned that Laurie was miffed by my apparent rejection. But I was only 7. How could I support a wife and family on my 25 cents-a-week allowance?
Miss Schmitt also seemed miffed. We boys didn’t know why until the girls pointed out that her finger lacked the hoped-for sparkly stuff.
The girls in my class declared all boys unromantic dunderheads. But none of us cared about that. You might even say we didn’t give a hoot.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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