Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

If you love owls, visit Houston November 13, 2015

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The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday - Monday.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota, is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday – Monday.

I DID NOT HAVE nearly enough time to explore the International Owl Center in Houston. That would be Houston, Minnesota, not Texas. My husband and I were on a tight schedule to reach La Crosse after lunching with friends Doreen and Tom atop the ridge near this southeastern Minnesota community.

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston.

A banner guides visitors to the International Owl Center in downtown Houston.

Still, we squeezed in a quick visit to this small town center featuring all things owl. I’d forgotten the center existed, although I’d written about it years ago for a magazine.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

Owl Center visitors compete in a quiz show that teaches them all about owls.

We popped in during a quiz show about owls and I was promptly recruited to a team. I contributed zero. I was more interested in shooting photos than in competing.

Owls

Two of the center’s live owls include Uhu, a Eurasian Eagle-Owl, left, and Alice, a Great Horned Owl, right.

This display shows Alice's wingspan.

This display shows Alice’s wingspan.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

The International Owl Center serves as a great resource for area schools.

I multi-tasked—shooting photos, reading educational information, viewing displays, listening to the game show host and eyeing three tethered and perched owls. If only we could have stayed long enough to learn more about that trio of owls.

Owl art, from all over the worlds, decorates the center's walls.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorates the center’s walls.

Owls are popular these days. In décor, clothing, art…

It's all about the eyes in owls, including these in a Great Horned Owl on display.

It’s all about the eyes in owls, including these in a taxidermied Great Horned Owl on display.

My personal interest in owls stretches back to my childhood and visits to my great grandma’s house in rural Wabasso. There, in a bachelor great uncle’s bedroom at the top of a staircase as steep as a ladder, an owl perched atop a chest of drawers, wings spread wide, eyes piercing fear into my soul. Fear, though, didn’t stop me from viewing that owl shrine every single time I visited. I don’t know the story behind the owl’s demise. Perhaps that is best. Truth sometimes destroys memories.

One of the center's live owls. I don't know its identity.

One of the center’s live owls. I don’t know its identity.

I also hold vague recollections of dressing as an owl for Halloween, heavy paper seed corn bag turned inside out, feathers and face colored upon paper, and holes scissored for eyes.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Taxidermied owls line a wall.

Today my nearest connection to owls comes with the repetitive hoot of a barred owl working the night shift. I have not heard the haunting hoot for some time now. Either the owl is no more or I have slept right through the nocturnal call.

A Snow Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

A taxidermied Snowy Owl, the dreamiest of owls, in my opinion.

Sometimes it is better to allow memories to linger, like pleasant dreams.

BONUS PHOTOS:

You can't miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center is hoping to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

You can’t miss this eye-catching window front. The International Owl Center plans to construct a new building to further its mission of advancing the survival of wild owls through education and research.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

Lovable mascot, Hooston, presides over the gift shop.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

A beautiful taxidermied Short-eared Owl.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

Time your visit for the live owl programs.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling