great mystery owls Feb 01, 2020

“There is something alive in a feather. The power of it is perhaps in its dream of sky, currents of air, and the silence of its creation. It knows the insides of clouds. It carries our needs and desires, the stories of our brokenness.” 

Linda Hogan, Dwelling: A Spiritual History of the Living World


There is no better way to leave our limited human viewpoint and enter the “more-than-human world” than spending time with animals. For we are lost creatures ourselves, with desires that lay hidden below the anxious suspension of our everyday lives. The further distanced we are from our animal instincts and needs, the more forgotten and buried they slowly become.  


I have found that if we are available to it, certain animals come to guide us when we most need it in our lives. It was this way with owls for me, or maybe all birds really. My obsession with them seemed to occur with a silent creep through the long halls of many years. All I know is that learning from birds has become my gateway into an expanded awareness of the living world. 


These sky beings literally greet me everywhere:


  • In the barren, volcanic landscape of Mt. St. Helens, ravens follow me up the sinews of glacial stretch, completely at home in the moody currents, as I climb to the untrustworthy upper rim.


  • In my backyard, mating great horned owls bellow to each other through an evening soup of fog, heard but never seen within the fir tree figures.


  • In the city waterfront, crows come in the hundreds to decorate the old maples like noisy, black Christmas ornaments, their language of caws subversive and unknown.


  • In the forest, a barred owl rests on the mossy sign that says “Red Fox Trail,” just sitting there with a look of “what took you so long.”


  • In my neighbors field, a mystery falcon hunts from the chain linked fence, perhaps a Cooper’s Hawk with its long barred tail and pale copper threads woven into its breast.


Whether they come to me or I just notice them when others don’t, I can’t really say. 


All I know is that they are miracles to me, even the towhee, the robin, the finch, the chickadee, the sparrow, all of the seemingly mundane birds that fly below our usual notice. They are messengers of complete aliveness.


I go out in the early morning light of a Sunday to listen to them, I visit the roiling old growth forests to study their movements, I fly in my dreams to be closer to them. One dream in particular returns again and again, with eyes that are a neon amber and alternating gold black feathers. I recognize this one. His name is Dmitri and he is a Eurasian eagle owl that lives at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon. In my repetitive dreaming, I stand next to him while he speaks the language of nature and I echo it in return.


Owls are people from a country that recognizes the many shades of darkness that come between the dance of night and day. An owl's eye color indicates when it prefers to hunt. Owls with orange eyes are crepuscular (active during twilight); owls with dark brown or black eyes are nocturnal; and yellow eyes indicate owls that are diurnal. They are the seers beyond the veil, plunging face first into the unknown.


In them live geniuses that we don’t understand, can’t even conceive of, like the hearing the pitter-patter mouse feet beneath inches and inches of snow. They know the secrets of treetop canopies and they hold the power of mottled invisibility cloaks. Their allegiances belong to a world that lives beyond our measured time, so much less primitive than our rational present. There is a wisdom to their natural laws which contain a beauty and depth that we can not hope to understand.


So this dream laid heavy on me for some time and would not let up. An idea was imprinted on me. I must go see Dmitri, stand by him and see what he has to tell me. Strangely enough the center allows for such visits (with a donation of support), and some process took hold. “I must go see Dmitri” became a soaring prayer somewhere in my heart.


A date was set on the calendar. The day after Christmas. I knew that the odds of having the weather cooperate were about one percent that time of year in the Pacific Northwest. I obsessed about needing to reschedule. I endlessly checked the weather. My urgency and fretting were pressing and illogical. 


I woke the morning of our meeting to crystal clear skies with a layer of lavender haze along the horizon. It could not have been more beautiful. All along the road for my two hour drive I observed raptors in the trees, skies, bushes, greeting me, sternly urging me along. 


Somehow all of the seemingly impossible puzzle pieces of that day fell into place. My dream vision came true. I got to have my one-on-one with Dmitri and the medicine of his presence shifted something in the core of me. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with him, even face to face, in his neon amber eyes I saw the edges of a different world. I soaked in his restlessness, his attention, his awareness of all life. 


For Dmitri everything speaks and in return everything answers—the invading raven in the faraway tree, the chipmunk in the bush a half a mile away, even the shaking fronds of a tree-sized swordfern. There are currents of wind that come as loud as ocean waves, dogs sniffing on a distant trail that sound like otherworldly beasts, and a chorus of plant noise that hums and drums all around. Humans miss so much in this spirited, vibrant land. 


Something was transferred to me in this meeting, an invisible gift placed in my talons. The relief of a flashing insight— the kind we get when we travel somewhere new or step off the well-worn path of our routines and see the world with a freshness—it was this kind of realization. As I drove home, feathers poking through the frontiers of my scapulas, I felt a tremendous gratitude, a heart swelling for this teaching. 


Once again raptors watched me from powerlines, burnt-out tree trunks and rickety fences the entire way home. Emotionally exhausted, I pulled up to find a pair of pearly osprey in the tree above me, silent and all-knowing.


 Just one last blessing from the bird people.