A black and white wood block print
of three owls,
inherited following a divorce,
has hung in my house for the last
many years—because
I like the look of it.
One day, a new friend,
visiting my house for the first time,
noticed that a large, carved wooden post
holding up half of what once was a lode-bearing wall,
was topped by two owl faces
and asked if I had an affinity to owls.
(It was at that moment I learned
that he had a personal connection to,
experiences with owls
and collected owl representations.)
Heavens no.
I hadn’t even seen them there
before.

I moved the wood block
of the three owls
with their six large eyes
over to the wall next
to the owl-topped post.
I like the way they look
there.

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Four owls in this photo—one atop the wooden pole

But this winter,
when Barn Owl got my attention,
I have been thoroughly
captivated. Watching
as it slept,
perfectly still,
silent
all day,
standing
in the same spot
in the barn.
And sometimes,
as I approach or leave my car
after dark,
suddenly almost touched by owl
sweeping over my head.
And hearing her (a “her” now, for me)
in the old Juniper tree
outside my bedroom window
sometimes during
the night.

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My spiritual director,
so wise,
so gently, patiently
insistent,
implored me
to take owl’s presence in my life
right now
more seriously.
Okay.
She sent along
some descriptions of owl symbolism,
which I read…
It seemed a bit of a stretch
for me. Though I resonated
with some of the symbolism,
there seemed to be something
missing.
And then,
the next day,
yesterday,
on PBS’ “Nature,”
the program: “Owl Power.
Good grief!
I turned it on,
and fell asleep.
But this morning,
fresher,
I watched it.

Job—the Hebrew Scripture’s Job—
says we must “Listen to the animals.
They will teach us.”
I have not been open
to the possibility of real owls literally
speaking something specific to me.
I love their haunting call;
but I am evidently too dense
or untrusting
to get a sense of what
they might be telling me
in their beautiful, night-time “whooo-whoo-whoo”
or their compelling stares
in those few wondrous moments of silence
we have looked at each other,
face to face
in the barn. In awe,
yet,
I get nothing.

Then today,
I learn how the animals
will teach me. I learn today
that the way owl is teaching me
is to learn the scientific facts about owl.
What a relief,
and thrilling discovery!

Owls have “superpowers”
says the narrator on “Nature.”
Seeing.
Their extra large eyes
(some owls, 70 percent of their body;
our eyes are 5 percent of our bodies)
gather available light
so that they see things 2.5 times brighter,
and they make a mental image during they day
of their home range
so that they can fly at night
without hitting anything.
Among their cousins,
the hawks, falcons, eagles,
they are the only ones that hunt at night.
Hearing.
Their heads are designed for hearing.
Extra space between their vertebrae
and a reservoir of blood at the top of their neck
allow them to turn their heads 270 degrees
without passing out,
which we would do.
Their heads then
are like a satellite dish,
channeling sound to their ears
on either side.
Flying.
They fly slowly
and silently.
With big wings, small bodies,
they fly with barely any disturbance
to the air, which makes the sound.
They fly so slowly,
sometimes it looks like
they’re going to stall.
Not only do they fly slowly,
but their flight wings
are fringed on the edges
and like velvet on top,
a softness that absorbs any sound.
Hunting.
They can hear their prey
even when they can’t see it
(like under snow, during the day.)
With their great night vision
they can fly right over their prey
without being heard
and then dive,
tilting their head to hear the exact
location of their prey,
until the last moment
when they drop their feet
and pounce with a force
12 times their body weight
(like an 8-ton truck
hitting a 170-pound human.)
Vulnerability.
Rain:
Silent wings cannot also
be rainproof.
Owl families often go without food
on rainy days,
because Dad can’t hear the prey
in the rain.
And young owls often don’t survive
their first winter,
despite Mom covering them
with her drenched body during rains.

As I watched the documentary,
my heart softened,
my soul sighed,
my gratitude swelled.
With each owl characteristic
I saw some of my own characteristics—
some I appreciate,
some I don’t (partly,
because other people don’t either!)
Seeing how owl was designed,
has adapted,
marveling at the way she is,
now,
I can appreciate
all of the wondrous design aspects
of an owl
that I see in myself.
Owl is being owl;
I can be me.
I like and respect owl.
I can like and accept
and respect me—
and then,
everyone else.

I am astonished
and glad
for this momentous discovery.
Who would have thought
this scientific learning about another being
would be the way
I listen and learn from the animals!
(Even in owl’s vulnerability to rain,
I wonder about the possibility
that there’s some mysterious protection for me
to be here on the potentially megadrought-plagued plains
when my soul pines for ocean, rain forest.)

Does she,
standing there in the barn,
whooshing suddenly over my head,
calling in the night,
know
I’m learning from her?
I don’t think so,
which is wondrous
in itself:
You see,
I am beginning
to experience for myself
more
what it means,
how it feels,
to each be parts
of one living,
interdependent
organism—
our planet home.