Free Enterprise

Here we are on the precipice before Tuesday’s elections. I am encouraged by the momentum of Sean Beilat in Massachusetts against the reprehensible Barney Frank and even have some hope that perhaps an honorable man might move the liar Cleaver out of my congressional district. Hope springs eternal…..

While thinking about all that’s at stake during this election [granted, the O will still be president and will veto all plans by our side–Gridlock is Good!] I’d like to share a tale of Free Enterprise, free association, and good will. Here’s what happens when the ‘stimulus’ for creating jobs and wealth happens spontaneously.

A couple of years ago a couple (Carlos and Donna Royal) installed a barn owl nest box in their spacious yard in southern California to go along with their kestrel box, beautiful gardens, bird feeders, etc. Nothing at all happened for two years, but this past January, after a big storm, they noticed noises coming from inside. This box had been installed with a camera that would transmit to their computer/TV in the house. They fired it up and saw the image of a heart-faced owl in the box. That night her mate showed up and the game was on! The adults were named Molly and McGee. The Royals enlisted their 15 year- old grandson to figure out how to share via the internet with Carlos’ mother. One thing led to another and soon family and friends were watching. Six eggs were laid and Carlos devised a way to install a night-vision camera and another day camera with sound during the brief absences at night when Molly left the box. Four of the eggs hatched and by this time 2 million people had watched the Owl Box [word got around!] I started watching right before owlet three hatched….and I was hooked. There was a chat room affiliated with the website hosted by Ustream and folks from around the world were there day and night visiting, cheering, mourning and sharing everything from jokes to recipes to advice about pets, etc. It became a huge community of ‘friends’ united by two owls and four owlets. We watched them grow, swallow whole mice [and watched one mouse, delivered alive, make a break for it out of the elevated door!], turn into fluffy balls of down, venture out of the box and take their first tentative flights.

From this community Free Enterprise blossomed. Author Eric Blehm, a childhood friend of the Royal’s son, suggested ‘publishing’ a PDF book for children about the Owl Box. Chris Adams, an artist/designer from back east, also a watcher, signed on to do the paintings. Orders poured in. Another watcher, artist John Atkinson from northern California, started a subscription for his delightful cartoons published roughly weekly and finally issued as a digital book and a forthcoming DVD. Adams sold prints of the book art. Carlos set up a Café Press site to sell his spectacular night photos–on absolutely every imaginable item, plus calendars, mugs, and on and on as well as many delightful free goodies for adults and kids. A watcher from Connecticut, a school teacher, wrote songs about the owls and recorded them with her students [they’re available from the Molly the Owl Books site]. A woman from Kansas City collected and compiled a cookbook of recipes offered up by the huge community [900+ recipes!] and put together a collection of her limericks and two Lexicon volumes composed of the novel language that emerged in Chat. The book’s author was persuaded to explore publishing a hardcover book in addition to the PDF version and started his own publishing company, Molly the Owl Books, and thousands of book orders poured in. I received my copies yesterday and they are far better than I could have hoped! Now he’s publishing a coffee table book of Carlos’ color night photos due out the end of December. He had a friend, a silversmith, who created delightful sterling charms based on the owls, including one that is a miniature owl nest box with flip-up roof showing four owlets inside!

The grandson, by now a true computer whiz, made a DVD with collected photos set to music and sold several thousand of them–enough of them to pay for two years of college–in addition to learning about business licenses, shipping, purchasing, etc. He had a real education.

The first clutch of the owls left and the Royals were all set to hit the road in their motor home, but the adult owls moved in again, started a second clutch and ultimately raised two more owlets to fledging. In the end there had been more than 20 million views on the site–from Italy, Japan, England, Dubai, Australia, The Netherlands….. The Royals have finally torn themselves away and are off on a road trip but the community still gets together on-line [at the Ustream site of the cartoonist]. Before they left they hosted a picnic in San Marcos and 400+ folks showed up….including the teacher/musician from Connecticut, a fan from Florida, the Kansas City woman and her family, the author, artist, cartoonist, and many new life-long friends. They’ve helped each other through family loss, health challenges, good times and bad…..in addition to learning more than they ever thought possible about some endearing birds.

This is all a wonderful testimony of what a community can do….desires were expressed and entrepreneurs stood up and met those needs. Carlos did live talks via computer with students in classrooms around the country. [In many classrooms, watching Molly and the owlets was a regular part of the school day.] Good deeds ensued with folks donating books and DVDs to schools and libraries as well as to some owl watchers unable to afford the concrete reminders of our time together. Friendships were formed among the chatters that will last until next year when, hopefully, the Royals plug in those camera cables again for the ‘owlcaholics’–and me!

3 thoughts on “Free Enterprise

  1. A prime example of what people can do when gubmint gets out of the way. I remember visiting their site once and watching the owls.

    KC hosted some Peregrine Falcons amongst the downtown building a while ago. There were cameras watching their nest as well and IIRC, at least two generations lived and hunted pigeons in downtown KC.

    I'm not sure what happened to them. When I worked in a office building along I-435 and Nall, I watched Falcons perch on lamp poles and along the edge of the higher buildings.

    Free Enterprise, like nature, follows rules. It's too bad the libs never understood that.

  2. In reality there was a local affiliate of a MSM network that did a couple of 'interest' stories during that first clutch….and a couple of San Diego newspaper stories. There was also a mention on one of the major networks that resulted in a bunch of new viewers. The KC owl watching 'commnity' had a picnic today [what perfect weather!] and had a report from the popular KC family who were able to go to The Big Picnic in CA–money was raised from the owl watchers for the train tickets, a house and car were provided for them while they were there (they just had to feed the cat), as well as spending $$ and a private tour of the San Diego Zoo. The daughter (slightly developmentally challenged) has been the star and mascot of the many, many watchers so everyone was thrilled to see them there (and vice versa). By the way, the interactions she has had in the chat room for these many months has made a huge difference in her abilities to write and communicate (she's 22). All in all, a most positive experience for all concerned.

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