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I know the meaning of 'to take in' is similar with 'to understand', and 'on one's way back' is 'to go back to where he/she was', but I don't understand the sentence below.

They brought jays here from all over the United States to look down that hole, every summer for three years. Other birds, too. And they could all see the point, except an owl that come from Nova Scotia to visit the Yosemite, and he took this thing in on his way back. He said he couldn't see anything funny in it. But then he was a good deal disappointed about Yosemite, too.

-from 'Baker's blue-jay yarn' by Mark Twain

I guess the context above means that the owl neither understands the story about the hole nor has a sense of humor, and only understands what happened there on his way back to his place (Yosemite). Also, he isn't impressed with Yosemite.

  • I think the owl lives in Nova Scotia, visited Yosemite, and "took in" (visited) the jay's hole when returning to NS after visiting Yosemite. I think the owl's lack of humor may also be referring to a stereotype of Nova Scotians being dour. – Wim Lewis Aug 14 '15 at 9:58
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To "take in" also means to "sightsee" as a tourist.

They went to the Grand Canyon to take in the sights.

See this ngram.

To 'take in' in the sense of ' to understand' might be defined more precisely as "to comprehend or assimilate events, facts, or ideas real-time, that is, as they are happening or as they are being presented or present themselves".

In her lecture, the professor was covering so much ground so quickly that the students found it hard to keep up and take it all in.

The first day of elementary school may be daunting to young children; it is not wise to present them with a long list of rules they must follow, for many of them won't be able to take it in all at once.

First, you say you want to study abroad for a year, and now you say you want to postpone the wedding indefinitely. Forgive me if I have trouble taking this in.

The detective stood before the crime scene and slowly took it in.

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