Owl Barf

About once a week I volunteer at my kids’ school. Now, before you go thinking I’m being Super Mom, I’ll assure you that I most certainly am not. I do it because the kids crack me up. I’m NOT joking. Kids are awesome.

Anyway, the other day I noticed some…ahem…floaties in dixie cups sitting on the table of my boys’ Young Fives classroom.

IMG_20131212_085818“Um…” I managed to get out.

“Owl pellets,” the teacher said. “It’s not poop.”

“Oh! Great.”

“It’s just owl barf.”

“Is that better?”

“The kids are going to pick through it to see what’s inside.” She smiled.

I may or may not have gagged a little.

The cuties sat at the table with tweezers and some pointy stick thingy. They proceeded to pick through the…ahem…vomit.

IMG_20131212_085909As grossed out as I was, the kids were enjoying it. They found fur. Tiny rib bones. Skulls. Teeth. Oh…the teeth.

Then they glued the…erm…parts onto a paper plate.


The cool thing was that, as the kids dug through the…blerg…barf, they found what was inside. They found little treasure of equally gag inducing partially digested body parts. They found what was inside. And what was inside was quite fascinating. Especially to a group of 5 year olds.

As writers, that’s what we need to do. Swallow down the gag reflex and dig through the muck to find what’s inside. To find the real story.

Is this a stretch? Am I pulling out too much from this owl vomit? I really don’t think so.

See, we live in a culture that looks at the surface. Seldom do we dig through the mess to find what else is there. Because the mess, the muck, the mire is overwhelming. It’s, well, dirty and gross. What we find, though, when we take a few minutes to look deeper, is sometimes just as icky. Sometimes, what we find is a treasure. Sometimes we find what feeds the pain or hope. What fuels the ability to keep going despite the muck. Or what keeps the person in that state of bitterness and despair.

All around us are people who need a second look. Not so we can observe them. But so that we can understand them. Build compassion for them. And, dare I say, find a way to love them…even the people who make us uncomfortable or who have hurt us.

Every once in awhile, we’ll find that what lies beneath all the layers of muck is something that looks pretty doggone familiar.

And sometimes, we find that what we find draws us together.

(NOTE: The owl barf was sanitary…made so by the wonders of science! Also, my boys’ teacher is passionate about science and teaching kids to love it. She cracks me up…but she also is teaching me a whole lot!)

(ANOTHER NOTE: I just found out that my boys’ teacher won “Teacher of The Year” for all National Heritage Academy Schools. Pretty cool, huh?)

Tell me: Anything. I have no idea what to ask you. Maybe tell me about looking deeper into the life of someone and understanding them better. Or…what was the grossest thing you had to dissect in school?

OH! And, if you’ve got a couple more minutes, pop over to Roseanna M. White’s blog. She wrote about My Mother’s Chamomile. Tell her I say “hi”!

10 Comments on “Owl Barf

  1. It’s a story how I ended up in biology class in high school, I won’t go into it here. However, we had to dissect grasshoppers, fish, and other things I can’t recall. I flat out refused. My teacher, who knew how I landed in his class, was very laid back. He allowed me to just take notes while my lab partner did all the dissecting. Luke, my lab partner, didn’t mind this arrangement one bit. I have a picture from that class of Luke dissecting the fish. Ew.

    In middle school, we had to dissect a pig lung. Also a group project which I tried to refuse, but I was not allowed. I was required to insert a straw into the lung and blow into it, causing it to inflate. ::shudder::

    As you know, I’m now a vegetarian. 😉


  2. So…..technically its not really vomit, as in ‘driving-the-porcelain-bus’ vomit. Its more like your cat’s hairball. Its the undigested stuff, usually fur and bones in the case of owls, that’s formed mostly in the gizzard. And its mostly dry and not stinky, in my experience. Its a great educational experience and a way to connect kids with a critter they don’t often get to actually see in the wild. Winter’s a great time to look for their wingmarks in the snow….nothing like a little mouse or a rabbit trail ending in a couple wingbeats for drama!


    • Yeah! I was amazed that it didn’t stink at all! I can’t wait to go exploring for owl wingmarks. I never would have thought to look for that. Living in the city we have to be very intentional about finding things like that.


  3. First of all, this is perhaps the strangest blog post title that has ever passed through my inbox.

    That said, I remember dissecting owl pellets in elementary school. We didn’t do it until the 4th grade, but I must have been quite impressionable because it’s one of the few sciencey things I actually remember from that era of my life. (That and putting the celery stalks into dyed water.)

    Thanks for writing this. And I like your application, too. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all.


    • Ha! I figured that would be the case with this title.

      I don’t remembering digging in the owl barf every in science. Most schools save it for later on, but my boys have a pretty awesome teacher. I’m amazed by what they do in that class!

      I’m glad you didn’t think it was a stretch. Sometimes I need to be reminded that other minds work like mine. It makes life a little less lonely.


  4. Susie,

    I loved this post. So many good comparisons between the literal gross stuff the kids were looking at and how we need to dig through all of that with the people around us and find the treasures. I needed that reminder.

    It also brought back memories of dissecting owl pellets with my two daughters when I homeschooled them. I was so excited when I ordered the pellets, anticipating the little skeletons we would put together. It was interesting and we found lots of little bones, etc., but it was also so gross that I considered selling our kitchen table after we got finished. 🙂



  5. I really liked your application. It makes loads of sense to me. The other day I was sitting in McDonald’s, noveling away when two of my characters got away from me. I thought I knew where the conversation would go, but boy, was I wrong!
    They started discussing suicidal thoughts and I found out both of them really struggled with them. I was shocked and dismayed, it seemed like I had just stumbled upon a pile of bones and guts and everything nuts, but I kept writing. Soon they were talking about what stopped them from following through and my main character looked at his sister, to whom he had been talking and honestly answered: “You.”
    I was almost in tears in the middle of McDonald’s, they both were in so much mental anguish every day. I realized what a monster I am, for making them live through those terrible things, but the more I think about it, the more I realize, I also provided them with each other to support each other and recover from what happened. I might have given them owl barf, but I also gave them the tools to dissect it and find the treasures.


    • It’s powerful when you realize all the life your characters have. It’s also a vulnerable feeling. At least for me. I’m glad you built a support system for your characters. That’s important.


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