Wednesday, May 26, 2010
A Gift of Owl
My daily trek with Toby regularly yields evidence of God's presence. It might be a doe flushed from the underbrush that crosses the road right in front of me while Toby crashes around where he first picked up the scent. It might be a single first-sighting of a new wildflower. It might be a handful of ripe salmonberries hanging over the trail, offering their wild grapefruit intensity.
Some days it's enough just to be outdoors and breathing the rain-washed air and enjoying the golden life force bounding with unfettered joy wherever his nose leads him. Some days I'll actively seek the thing that might reassure me I'm not alone - that love exists in such abundance it surely includes me as well. And once in a very rare while I'll be so lost in my own story, the glory surrounding me is muted by the fogbank of my sorrows. Like yesterday.
The gifts of these walks have been significant over the years. Frequent sightings of my beloved Bald Eagles, including a clearly courting pair earlier this spring. Spawning salmon in the fall. Once, across the river, an otter.
And lately I've seen owls. During the day.
I've known owls lived around here somewhere from their back-and-forth calling at the break of day. A few weeks ago in the overgrown meadow that is the last stop of our walk, I noticed a large bird of prey that was too dark and too bulky to be a hawk, too small to be an eagle. A flock of jays was in frantic chaos, and it was their noise that made me look up to see them chasing this large avian shadow away. I spotted the bird twice more on different days, each time becoming more certain it had to be an owl, even though owls are nocturnal.
Then last week, in the same meadow, I heard Toby crashing through the brush toward me, barking. I looked up, expecting deer, but instead seeing what was clearly an adult Great Horned Owl flying straight for me and directly overhead. By the time I got myself turned around, he was perched in a moss-furred Douglas fir tree, and watched me approach one very careful step at a time while Toby continued his frenzied search for this new toy. I finally got one step too close, and he launched himself in the direction of the river, showing me the mouse in his talons. The one I'm assuming he had just snared on the ground when Toby discovered him.
Every day since then, I've looked for the owl and have seen no evidence of him at all. Until yesterday.
I wasn't looking for him yesterday. I wasn't looking for or at anything really. My heart was as gray and heavy as the weather and I had almost skipped the meadow. But I didn't, in part because the movement of walking was offering some comfort, as was Toby's joy.
Toby frolicked in front of me toward the most open place in the meadow. The second my brain registered body language that said he'd spotted movement, what for all the world looked like a flying cat lifted out of the grass and cleared my head by no more than five feet before its wings carried it to a broken branch on the side of one of the many firs at the edge of the grass. Where it teetered slightly before swiveling its head to figure out where the danger had come from.
Knowing settled over me like a soft hand stroking hair for comfort. I was seeing a newly fledged owl. Greenish gray fur that so blended in with the mossy branches around him I was afraid to take me eyes off of him at all because I didn't trust I'd be able to spot him again. Just the beginning of tufts on his head. And those eyes.
We stood in one another's company for a very long time. Long enough that I could see his eyes glowing ebony in liquid gold. Eyes that didn't blink or move away and that seemed to see through everything.
I don't know how long we stayed like that. He changed trees twice, and I followed him both times. Toby wandered around enjoying the extra free time, checking in from time to time, bumping my hand, then moving away once I reassured him I was fine. Finally it started to rain and I could hear another owl offer quiet squawks farther into the woods. My baby squawked back, and I decided it was time to let him be.
I made sure he was etched, burned, imprinted in my memory's eye. The soft, awkward, sturdy newness of a baby owl in daytime. His curiosity. His intensity. His presence. A gift like that needs to be honored with regular remembering. Those eyes recalled to remind me that light will always be offered in the darkness, even when my heart is too hurt to search.
photos from Flickr