The Social Capital Owl FAQ


1. How long has this foolishness been going on?   About 15 years now.

2. What is Social Capital?   The Wikipedia article is pretty good. I find myself aligned with Francis Fukuyama as opposed to Bill Putnam, who wrote the most commonly accessed book on the subject, “Bowling Alone”, and who I feel is heavily influenced by a false sense of nostalgia for the white male nirvana of the 1950’s in the US. Fukuyama describes social capital as “shared norms or values that promote social cooperation, instantiated in actual social relationships”, which I feel describes the owl-community fairly well.

2. How did the SCO get its start/How can I start a SCO on my road?   One day I started cutting down a small spruce at the edge of the road and was interrupted (as one is with small children) before I chopped down the stripped trunk. A neighbor came by and plopped a yard-sale scare-owl on the convenient pole. Someone with a great imagination decided to dress it in a baby tee-shirt advertising the Common Ground Fair and here we are. I imagine you could start by setting a naked owl statue out by the side of the road and then quickly walking away –  the key seems to be allowing anonymity, at least to start. Don’t spy on the owl goings-on!

3. What’s your favorite owl outfit?   Someone added a mortar board (it might have been a party favor?) when our son graduated from high school. That was very sweet.

4. Do you ever dress the owl yourself?/What’s the easiest way to dress an owl (statue)?   Generally the owl just shows up in a new outfit based on the season or an upcoming holiday. Patriots games are a big inspiration, and so is Halloween. Baby clothes from a thrift shop or yard sale used to be the easiest costumes to use, but now I buy small dog outfits when I can find them cheaply. They come with velcro fittings and come in a frankly frightening array of holiday/sports/occasion choices.

5. The owl has been exposed to 15 years of road salt and blistering Maine summers; will you find another one when the plastic finally crumbles?   The owl is indeed faded and worn, and his/her eyes are not their original sparkling yellow. I think we’ll probably have a neighborhood wake and family burial in the back yard at some point, and then go looking for alternatives. Suggestions, anyone?


Sing like a Tree Frog (Owl)

owl frog frog owl

One of the neighbors dressed the Social Capital Owl in a Japanese frog mask, possibly in honor of the spring peepers going mad in our swamp. Here’s a poem by Dick Allen to celebrate.

You May Leave a Memory, Or You Can be Feted by Crows

Three years, Huang Gongwang

worked on his famous handscroll,

“Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”.

As he put successive applications of ink to paper

over the “one burst of creation,” his original design,

it is said he often sang like a tree frog

and danced on his old bare feet.

One day, he adds one hemp fiber stroke,

the next a moss dot.

What patience he had,

like a cat who comes back season after season to a mole’s tunnel.

Honors may go to others.

Riches may go to others.

Huang Gongwang has one great job to do.

And he sings like a tree frog,

and he dances on old bare feet.


Your weekly Owl

I’ve noticed an uptick in Social Capital Owl costume changes lately. Maybe it’s the bustle of the summer starting up (out-of-state license plates have been seen on the road already) or it could be that the Owl is just more accessible now that the snow drifts have melted. Three weeks ago we had Mardi Gras Owl whose gauzy lime butterfly wings were sadly battered by a rain and wind. Someone carefully removed all the finery and left it in a plastic shopping bag on my front stoop for safekeeping and for a few days the Owl wore a nice wool scarf. Then, to mark Thursday’s record breaking high temperature of 80 degrees F (!!) another anonymous Owler duct taped on a pair of sunglasses. And here you have it – a totally appropriate commentary on our coldest/hottest spring ever:

Future's so bright, I have to wear shades.

Halloween Owl

This morning someone came by and dressed Social Capital Owl as a rather formal tiger for Halloween. There’s a bowtie involved. . .

The mystery neighbor even taped the ears to the plastic owl “horns” so they’ll stand up to the wind and rain, and took away the summer costume of a child’s yellow sun dress and flower garland. Nice job!


We’re under a winter storm warning tonight, with 6 to 12″ of snow predicted here and upwards to 20″ in The County. It will be heavy, wet, late-spring snow and there are reminders on the news to keep an eye on flat roofs and swiftly rising streams. I know spring is here, though, because today someone stopped to decorate The Owl.

Owl Baby!

The Kitteredge Brook Rd. Social Capital Owl has a long history; ten years ago I cut down a few small spruce out by the road and left one slender, straight trunk thinking I’d put a bird house there someday. (Spruce is a fast-growing tree here, and if you don’t get them young well, I have a few 70 footers in the garden already from that kind of wishful thinking.)  While I was pondering whether a bird house would be a good idea or not (cats? traffic?) someone came along and nailed a plastic owl to the top.

Not long after that, the owl sported a pair of child’s sunglasses and a very faded lime green bikini. As summer passed into fall a tiny straw hat appeared, a Common Ground Fair t-shirt (with an encore every year after the fair in September), a Halloween costume (my favorite was the pirate outfit complete with tiny parrot), and a Santa hat and wreath. When our son graduated high school the owl sported a tiny mortar board and tassel. Sometimes I go out and retrieve a decoration that is out of season or falling apart, but all the donations are anonymous – even furtive.

My personal feeling is that the good old days were anything but, and that social capital as a concept in modern society reflects nothing but wishful thinking by the formerly powerful and well-connected. I will admit, however, that it has worked wonders on a plastic owl.