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reed magazine logoSeptember 2010

Feathered Frenzy


David Nielson ’11 loses his shirt in the struggle for the Owl.

PHOTO BY tom brookes

On the night of April 24, barely a week before Renn Fayre, the SU was crowded with students grooving to the music of iconic ’80s band Talking Heads. Their carefree gyration masked a keen sense of anticipation, however—a hunger. Rumors had been flying that the Doyle Owl might make an appearance. Ears were pricked, eyes peeled. How would the Owl appear? Hanging from a tree? Covered in grease? Furtive groups loitered near the exits, not sure what to expect but ready for anything.

Then it happened.

A spark of flame flashed in the dark. Within seconds, the SU lay deserted as hordes of students pounded across the quad to a flaming, jumbled mess of chicken wire and newspaper. Brought up short by the heat, onlookers formed a ring of glowing faces peering at the inferno. “Is it in there?” “Can you see it?”

“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to Reed College’s very own annual Rare Bird Show!” declared Phill Stasz ’10, stepping out of the darkness. The crowd rumbled with discontent as the flames died down to reveal nothing but ash and glowing wire. “Now, this may look very convincing and impressive,” Phill continued. “But I’d advise you to all turn around if you want the real thing.”

As one, the crowd whirled about to face Sallyport, where a tattered bedsheet was whisked away to reveal the sacred Owl—encased in a massive block of ice!

Within seconds, the block was convulsed in a roiling scrum of students struggling for a chance to touch the fabled artifact. Victorious freshmen emerged, mud-spattered and sweaty, showing off blurred, chaotic photos on their cell phones. As word of the apparition spread, the crowd grew. And grew. And grew. Factions emerged as teams joined forces to push the Owl this way or that while attempting to defrost the ice with cups of boiling water, hoses, or the warmth of their own bodies. Brief bursts of movement sent students spinning off from the central mass, but the block seldom moved more than a foot or two before grinding to a halt under the press of bodies. Meanwhile, cars began to edge up from various parking lots, preparing for the inevitable moment when a speedy getaway would make the difference between winning and losing the prize. And this was just the beginning.

“For the first two to three hours it’s just people trying to touch it,” Phill explained later. “When that’s done with, the real struggle begins.” Possession of the Owl brings great timê, but, as every Reedie knows, with great timê comes great responsibility. Conspirator Phillip Schwartz ’10 actually drove the owl to Los Angeles to pose on the Walk of Fame. Then there’s the “release,” which has become progressively more elaborate. To encase the Owl in ice, the team employed the industrial freezer in commons. At 20°F, it didn’t take long for the revered icon to become a giant ice cube. Finally, during the battle proper, fellow provocateurs Niall Murphy ’11, Bryan Nakayama ’10, Robert Kahn ’11, and Jordan Pinches ’11 did their best to wreak havoc on all sides. “There are no friends where the Doyle Owl is concerned,” says Phillip. “If you don’t fight for it, it’s not worth it.”

If that’s the criterion, the eventual victors certainly earned their glory. The battle raged through the night until finally, after hours of struggle, the Owl was snatched away into the early dawn by a band of brigands whose identity, for obvious reasons, remains secret.

—Lucy Bellwood ’12

reed magazine logoSeptember 2010