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.