We all know what owls mean – by sounds, by images. Great horned owls are everyone’s mental archetype of owl. They are a classic harbinger of Halloween danger, as those gargantuan neon eyes on the porch at a house downtown remind us. Or they are brainy knowledge, wisdom. Surely we’ve seen owls as the theme for a baby’s nursery, expressing in hats and adorable onesies the hopes for future intellectual achievement. I hadn’t seen actual owls before, great horned or otherwise. Owls had been merely a heap of accepted images to us; recognizable, if tired, symbols.

But then I met one.