William Service, whose adopted Owl is both the subject and the title of his first book and the article that begins on page 52, came to writing—and to owls, too—by an odd route. A Philadelphian, he was graduated from Princeton after majoring in psychology, went to graduate school at Duke, where he studied clinical psychology, and then settled in a suburb of Durham, N.C. There he met Owl—of the screech family—and brought him into the Service ménage, which now consists of one young golden retriever, one worldly cat, three children (Lia, Will and Grant, 13, 11 and 9) and Mrs. Service, Cornelia. (Animals in the household cast are constantly changing.)
The Services had not seen any owls in their neighboring woods before Owl appeared and have seen none since, though they have done a good deal of searching. "We even put up owl-type nests in mailboxes and trees to attract them," says Bill. Owl's own parents were never found, and the closest Owl himself came to meeting kin was when he spotted himself in a mirror.
Owl responded to his image, Bill says, "with a glare and a bob of his head either way to get a better look. Then he understood, and lost interest. But a new mirror in a different spot would again throw him temporarily, until he got it figured out." Once he dive-bombed his own reflection in a small hairdressing mirror of screech-owl size.
The Services have heard other owls at night—but not screeching. "They never screech," says Bill. "I believe they're named after a European owl that has a similar appearance, and it screeches. But I'm not an ornithologist and don't plan to become one."
June 29, 1969
He also is not an ichthyologist and has no desire to become one either. He does have a 53-gallon aquarium that used to house Astronotus ocellatus ("you can look it up for yourself"), which suggests he played host to an astronaut. But the fish did not orbit, although they cleared the water when they jumped. Service has written articles on tropical fish, but his Astronotus ocellatus have died out. The 53 gallons are now filled with run-of-the-millers. Owl, naturally, noticed the fish and flew directly at the tank. When this brought him no dinner, he settled for glowering from a neighboring bookcase.
Encouraged by the reception of Owl, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., Service is now completing several works of fiction. His long step, or flight, from clinical psychology to owl-a-drama is not a well-traveled route, but you will be glad he took it after you read his story.