Martin Windrow never intended to require visitors to his London flat to don protective headgear, but that’s what happened. He had to protect his guests from the eight long talons of Mumble, the tawny owl who lived in his small, urban apartment. As you might guess, sharing a flat with Mumble required other accommodations as well. All surfaces had to be covered with either plastic or newspaper to protect them from Mumble’s unpredictable and very messy emissions. How could cohabitating with such a creature be worth these high costs?
To find out the answer, read Windrow’s new book, which meticulously chronicles his shared life with the adorably dangerous owl. Based on 15 years of detailed notebooks, The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is part homage to Mumble, part meditation on tawny owls generally (there’s a chapter called “The Private Life of a Tawny”), and part story about how one man’s life was undeniably enriched through a relationship with a wild creature. Windrow, an accomplished editor of books about military history, is a thorough narrator: His passages are full of detail, and his reflections on events are interspersed with quotes from his notebooks. In one particularly impressive chapter, “Mumble’s Year,” Windrow reads across several years of notebooks to identify how Mumble’s emotional life seemed tied to her annual molting of feathers.
The book is full of other charming passages, as well. Windrow describes how the little owl would fall asleep at his shoulder and nuzzle his face with her head. She seemed to find his daily rituals, such as shaving, fascinating. Likewise, Mumble utterly captivated Windrow. He wrote about her daily and read countless pages about her physiology. Her neck is especially impressive. Yet The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar is no textbook. Windrow’s recollections are completely personal and filled with deep affection. Mumble died more than 20 years ago, and with time came clarity about the role she played in his life. Windrow did not get another tawny.
After reading The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar, I don’t find myself eager to buy a predatory bird to keep in my home. However, I am grateful that Windrow did. By living with Mumble and writing about it, Windrow explores something of what it means to be human in a world of animals. His humanity was expanded by his life with this small creature, and readers can share some of the riches by simply reading his story.