Regular visitors to Fresh Pond often greet each other by asking, “Did you see him? Is he there today?”
The uninitiated may be excused for wondering what local celebrity could be the subject of such intense speculation. Is Matt Damon back in the ’hood? Might Ben Affleck be scouting locations for another film set in his old stomping grounds? Has Larry Summers taken up power walking to slim down? Is Justice Stephen Breyer riding his bicycle again after his accident last year? Does Skip Gates jog to keep ahead of the Cambridge police?
The celebrity in question does enjoy an active nightlife and a reputation for being wise. Though he keeps to himself and avoids the limelight, photographers wielding very long lenses often intrude on his privacy and celebrity gawkers staking out his home regularly disrupt his sleep. His waterfront pad, on a high floor, commands one of the most beautiful views in town, yet it is curiously lacking in amenities; a lifelong adherent of a raw food diet, he is said not to miss having a kitchen, but concedes that the lack of heat has made him consider heading south for the winter.
Have I stumped you?
I’m referring, of course, to Fresh Pond’s resident Eastern Screech Owl, whose Garboesque presence has made him (or her?) a minor celebrity in these parts. The smallest of owls, Fresh Pond Owl (“Fresh-PO”) stands a mere eight inches tall and has piercing yellow eyes, like an avian Jawa. Now in his “red morph” phase, his richly variegated russet plumage may have inspired the fabulously feathered Alexander McQueen gown that Lady Gaga wore to the MTV Awards in 2010. His tufted ears, as distinctive as Mr. Spock’s, sit asymmetrically atop his head, rendering his hearing extremely acute — be careful what you say under his nest! As for his voice, the “screech” name is a misnomer; his melismatic call is more Mariah Carey than Alanis Morissette.
I hesitate to reveal online the exact location of Fresh-PO’s roost for fear of further compromising his privacy, but I will say that it is high up in a tree hollow, very close to the point where the footpath from Glacken Field meets the main perimeter trail. A semi-circular wooden bench is a nearby landmark.
Fresh-PO was there today when my dog Eddie and I were enjoying the relative quiet of a Sunday morning walk on the heels of this winter’s first significant snowfall. (We were grateful there were fewer joggers to dodge and no cyclists whizzing by.) As we were passing under his nest, a professional nature photographer named Eric Smith arrived with a tripod and a telephoto lens a good deal larger than Fresh-PO himself. I introduced myself as one of Fresh-PO’s biggest fans, and Eric kindly let me look through his camera’s viewfinder. Wow! This little fellow is more than ready for his close-up. Move over, Matt and Ben, a new Cambridge star is on the wing.
Eric promised to post a few photos of Fresh-PO on his website soon, but in the meantime have a look his photos of the Great Horned Owls who nested and raised twins at Mount Auburn Cemetery last year.