Tonight I’m making another batch of feta with the milk that’s collecting in the fridge. I have maybe five dog-eared cheese making books in my arsenal and have started to decipher the difference between meso and thermophilic cultures (but don’t be a smartass and ask me to explain it). The science of this craft is intimidating to a person who can just barely articulate photosynthesis. Cultures, pH levels, chemical reactions – they’re beyond me. I declared on January 1 that this year I would slay two cheese-related beasts: 1) by the end of 2013 I’ll be able to whip up a batch of creamy feta without consulting a recipe, and 2) I’ll make one edible molded cheese like Camembert. It’s not exactly shooting for stars, but it’s best to set goals at an achievable height.
The radio echoes through the kitchen, competing with the noise of a full dishwasher. Dogs lay in heaps around the island, snoring and dream-running after chickens or squirrels. Betty barks at the back property line, every other second, the way she does each night when the sun sets until 10pm. Through all this racket billows a sound that’s rich and hollow at once, like one note hummed into a tin can. I hear it once, then it comes back out rounder, fuller. It’s right at the roof, then in the woods then at the cow pasture. I quickly silence the radio-demon telling stories about deficits and guns, a flu epidemic, impending disaster and chaos. I pause the dishwasher that busily scrubs away a day’s worth of hurried meals and milk pails. I grab the glass of wine that’s been following me around the house this evening, take it for a walk onto the back porch.
I hear the thing again before discerning its sturdy shape at the edge of a branch. Four long, low hoots. It is answered by another immediately in the distance, then a third calls from someplace over where the cows sleep. Their song is a voice from another world, where time is imagined. By piercing the noise inside it made me quiet the space and brought me out to the porch where stars twinkle and trees stand watch. Every year, just at that time when the calendar turns and we ready ourselves for ambitious starts, and plans, and new worries, the winter owls perch. Their voices say, “Be still.”