In a recent piece at Aeon Magazine, Bryan Pfeiffer, a field biologist at the University of Vermont, describes the snowy owl as an emissary that brings a greater understanding of our natural world -- that's especially true considering the recent irruption:
Few of us will actually witness a pod of beluga whales surfacing in frigid Arctic waters or caribou migrating across expansive tundra. Polar bears will not wander south to visit us this or any other winter. Snowy owls have come instead.
From other wild places we will receive no such messengers. Rolling, tallgrass prairies, which once made the American Great Plains great for ornate wildflowers and for grasses as tall as you, have vanished beneath the plow and pavement. From the scattered patches that remain, bison will never leave to visit the Rust Belt.
Coral reefs, once a source of fishing abundance for millions of people around the globe, are now terminally ill ecosystems – all but dead, victims of overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification. No waving arm of coral from the Great Barrier Reef will visit the Northeast this winter. No ornate butterfly fish, flashing yellow like a snowy owl's eyes, will swim to the Midwest to remind us of the warehouses of biodiversity we're losing from coral reefs
Perhaps the snowy owl can stand in for those other earth- and water-bound emissaries. Whether watching them through binoculars or on the glowing screen, we might see, in the glow of an owl's eyes, more of the world – from the Highlands to the Serengeti, from arctic to ocean. Or at least we might find humility.