The Owl

My owl was back last night,  it was yesterday evening after work but it had been dark so long I don’t think I am remiss in calling it night. I was making the bed with fresh linen wishing I could just lie down and sleep in it alone and quiet for just a while, when I heard him. The owl.  My owl. He comes only a few times a year and feels like a harbinger. I am afraid of him and his Hoo Hooing. He has preceded too many human tragedies for me to take his presence lightly.

His owl sound was round and pregnant and inside a bell like. Casual and patriarchal at the same time, like an old father who says no you can’t, just like he always does, from behind his large old fashioned newspaper, expected and final and calm but you know that if you defy the patriarchal no: you will get a hiding. I stood still in the winter bedroom ringed in frosted windows and doors with my unclothed pillow held in my arms like a forgotten baby and listened fearfully, hard. When I listen I always tilt my head to bring my good ear around into the direction of the sound. I had always wished for ears that followed sound on their own like a dogs or maybe a deer or a bat,  but we are not thinking  of ears again,  as I stand holding a white pillow, we are talking of listening.  We are trying to hear clearly. So, I stood still, my head cocked like a startled piglet, my ears not catlike, head down and turned, listening with what human senses I could muster.

I remembered that I had left my phone at work. I was without communication alone out here in this wide open frozen space. How would I know what he was foretelling. I wouldn’t.

He called again this bird. His silky sound.

I decided I had to see him. I had heard him intermittently across my tenure here on the plains but I have never seen.him. What is this human condition to see and poke at and investigate and get out the book and name something. It is so satisfying, whereas the naming somehow catches it and diminishes it. Locked inside its own description. Controlled. All nice and neat. Book shut.

I stood and listened to his call again and knowing that moving would send him away I could not ignore my need to see him. I would smash open this chocolate kinder surprise moment to identify the toy inside.

I slid in my soft feet quiet as the frightened mice to the French doors and keeping my eyes on the big trees I opened the door ever so slowly. I reminded myself again that this would scare him up but I would risk it so I could see him and then I could identify him and file him in the proper folder in my head. Capture his name. Control the fear he prodded in me. The fear that is never idle in a human. (And deep in my conscious I wonder if I was thinking if he was gone the bad things could not happen).

The door handle still cold in my hand, my head the impression of a peer out the door,  he was already in the air and soaring away. Immediate. Pulling my head up. God arms outstretched.  Silent.  Launched.  Huge and majestic and poised,  he glided from his tree outside my window straight out across the reflective snow field. Not a word.  Effortless. Sublime. Ancient. We did not have some epiphanic connection, I did not see him take off. Just the bird against the sky.  I was unable to see any markings, no head shape or feathers or tail or tucked up feet. Nothing for my six million dollar human brain to catalogue. He was already a cut out, a shadow puppet, a memory imprint. His wings, his body, his head – turned into his path.  This perfect huge portent of a bird. His night shape quickly left the circle of house light and soared through the half lit moonlight and was gone into the black horizon. But I knew him.

I cannot name him for you. Or describe him for you. Or put him in a class of owl birds.  Or send you his sound. These small English words are not helpful. But we know him don’t we. My owl. And he is gone for the time being. Being time. Time being what it is.

Good morning


42 Comments on “The Owl

  1. In truth, I’m envious. I’ve seen an owl only once, or maybe twice, and rarely hear them. I spend my life looking for them, and here you get one, just like that. Who knows? Maybe you caught sight of an owl who was meant for me, but got misdirected. That’s a fun thought, for sure.

  2. How exciting – I’d see him as a good omen. Owls eat mice, keep the pigeons away and are associated with wisdom and magic.
    …and I just came across this online:
    “The Japanese word for owl is fukurou. Very nearly the same word, fuku, means “luck”. Further, the Japanese word fukurou also means “protection from hardship or suffering”.”

    • Super cool! Thank you Mad, for the translation from Japanese! It is wonderful!

    • Good Morning, Mad Dog,

      Please excuse my intrusion, but your information on the Japanese word for owl instantly brought to mind the sound they make. Do you also think that the word for owl was onomatopoeically formed? Or perhaps it is my English interpretation of the phonetic breaking of the word, fu-ku-rou, that tricks my brain? Regardless of how I got there I do love that “luck and protection from hardship and suffering” are in there too.

      Thank you for sharing!

  3. I love the sound of an owl. I once had a strange encounter with a snowy owl. I was was in university walking home just before dusk and it followed me from rooftop to roof top for about a 5 minute walk. Maybe it thought I was it’s prey? Was it trying to tell me something? Last winter I also had a close encounter with a rather large snowy owl also. It swooped pretty close and landed on the very top of a large evergreen above me and my daughter.

  4. You are fortunate knowing your big owl will return to your tree. A science professor who had spent lots of time in the woods said to always look up & notice the knots & lumps on limbs & someday one will really be an owl sitting there watching you & you’ll get to see it fly away. I’ve heard the little screech owls who most often utter soft tremolos in our backyards on crisp winter nights, & seen the small long-legged burrowing owls standing sentinel by their burrows on the campus of Florida Atlantic University, but I’ve seen only one or two big owls flying silently on the hunt once or twice when w lived in the woods. Still, I always look for lumps & bumps in the bare limbs of trees in winter, in hopes….

    • The big barn owls are not uncommon around here. But I seldom see them having a barn full of animals and me. Plus my owls favorite tree came down last winter as you will remember so I guess he/she was waiting for trying new trees out. We don’t have too many tall ones.

    • wonderful – I will get my hard wheat (Glenn) and all purpose wheat(Warthog) all mixed up and have a go. I feel sure I would love to eat home made croissants. May I put this link on the Janies Mill recipe site? I know everyone would love to learn from you there too.

  5. We had two great horned owls around our house for years. The male calls and and the female answers, and when those two sounds get very close in time, they are usually about to mate. One night, when the trees in our yard were bare and their calls had grown very close, we stood at large windows in the dark and watched their sharp silhouettes. She was on a high cottonwood bough and he was two trees away. He glided to her and in a chaotic flurry of huge wings they met. It was over very quickly and off he flew. They nested high atop a neighbor’s tree and we watched as the two owlets, who at first looked like fuzzy cucumbers standing up, grew to an enormous size that spilled over the sides of the nest. I love owls. Please don’t be afraid of them.

    • What beautiful descriptive pieces from you and Violet. When my children were young we used to camp in Thetford forest and hear them throughout the night. And then one evening when we out strolling at dusk we saw a low flying barn owl. It was totally mesmerising, silent and ghostly. After that we use to see it every evening on several different camps over a few years. We all considered ourselves SO lucky.

  6. The only owls I’ve ever seen are in a forest preserve shelter not a mile away from me for those who cannot fly. We have hawks though. I’ve heard owls can turn their heads 270 degrees whereas we—only 90. Owls have 14 vertebrae whereas we have only 7.
    Scientists wanted to know why owls don’t have strokes because if we could turn our heads like they do we’d cut off our carotid arteries. Yet owls don’t have strokes. Turns out their arteries have pool pockets and at the base of their brains their arteries are free of vertebrae. —from listening to Science Friday on radio WNIB.

  7. We have two mating Big-Horned Owls that live in our trees. I always delight when they come. Seeing the little owlets is just wonderful. I always feel huge delight when they show up. Although to be on the safe side, I keep the cats in the house and the chickens in their yard. 🙂

  8. I was absorbed in your beautiful writing when I was jolted out by “getting a hiding”. Every now and then a phrase stops me and I think “I haven’t heard that in ages”. It’s Aussie but I don’t think, American English.
    Or, are we too PC that no one gets “a hiding” anymore??

  9. Once when we were walking Jessie, our Golden Retriever, she surprised and flushed a large owl that was eating a kill. The spooked the owl flew up into a tree and watched. When Jessie ranged out in front of us the owl attacked her. Jessie didn’t see it silently coming for her and it sunk its claws into her back. Jessie yelped and the Owl flew back to the tree. We ran over to see that the claws went into her skin and raised the hair on her back. She had bumps for a while as well as a pretty good scare. The owl wasn’t very happy that Jessie disturbed its dinner.

  10. I hope your owl isn’t the harbinger of anything but wonder and curiousity. We have a resident owl who visits our yard, and we’re very fond of it. It is quite accustomed to us, and even our dog, who unlike us isn’t a fan. Recently the owl left us a couple of lovely big feathers which have become our favourite bookmarks.

  11. There’s a wonderful book by Bernd Heinrich, One Man’s Owl about an owl he rescued and then lived with in the Maine Woods until Bubo became independent. Avoid the abridged edition of posible

  12. I have seen a white owl just once, here in France. We were driving in the country and all of a sudden I felt the urge to look in a very specific place, even as we were moving by it. The crotch of a tree across a field next to the road. And there was the owl. Looking at me, like the Mona Lisa with following eyes. It was spectacular. I too have the feeling it was a good omen. I hope, in fact, yours is too… maybe the bird offers you protection. Maybe that slight warning that to you means something bad is about to happen, is just what you need to see it through, whatever it is. Maybe.

  13. I love it when outside on starry nights gazing upward and I hear the Owls hoot; calling to each other, somewhere down the hill, closer to the creek (and very glad there’s enough vegetation between us that they aren’t spooked by my eavesdropping : )

      • While I haven’t had time lately to just stand and stare at the night sky, or hear the Owls, there have been so many hawks (Red-Tails mostly) over the past few weeks – perched in high places and peering intently at the ground below – hunting the fields before the snow gets too deep… So I know it’s quite likely the Owls are doing the same ‘on the night shift’; )

  14. Wonderful writing Celi! Reading and rereading this I feel as though I am right with you searching for the owl! And so wonderful to read everyone’s owl stories too! xo

  15. You are very prosaic here. Beautifully written. I see owls differently but then I’ve not had your experiences with them. That makes all the difference in the world. I have a couple on the hill behind my home but have never seen them. I can hear them talking to each other at certain times of the year. They are back now. I love standing and listening to them just like I love hearing all the bullfrogs in spring. You could easily be a very successful writer. We get what you are feeling from the way you write it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours. Much love from here.

  16. Oh, I love owls. Feel very privileged if I see one. We have Barred Owls 🦉 in my neighborhood and hear their hoots all year long but they get especially loud right around now close to their mating time. They can make amazing monkey sounds—google Barred Owl monkey sounds!
    Also Great Horned owls regularly go after not just rodents but those bastard minks!

  17. There are a few great horned owls in my neighborhood. I hear them in the early morning when I am walking the dog. Oh! They are marvelous !

  18. You posted about an Owl and I read Poe’s The Raven on Monday. I has been such thick fog here each morning and coming home from the doctor Monday morning a flock of black birds were in my path. In the dense fog with little sunlight they were ominous.

    Hope all is well for you and yours.

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