It was dark
when I first heard Her
the First of the
The seasonal wheel turning towards
ripe fruit and swelling seeds.
in feathery mole brown splendor
a Sphinx flying
through the night.
S/he heralds the
Gift of Water
answering earnest prayers…
As ‘Changing Woman’ she brings rain
to soften cracked desert ground…
Hidden in a tangle of branches
Owl observes my approach…
When I pass
under the Cottonwood tree
she takes flight in silence.
lands on a snag –
luminous eyes glowing.
sweeten the night.
Presence floods me
with wonder –
Oh, I know Her well.
Love seeps through
a body punctured by holes.
Seen at last by my Beloved
I give thanks for Owl
whooo calls my name.
Last fall on the night of my birthday I was serenaded by three Great Horned owls conversing outside my window. In the thirty years I had lived in my cabin these owls had never visited me before. The hair stood up on my arms – an omen, I was sure. The owls felt like an embodiment of my mother for reasons I will explain in a moment. Every night after my birthday the owls whooed outside my window until I left Maine for New Mexico six weeks later.
The night after I arrived great horned owls began hooting. I couldn’t escape the irrational thought that the owls had followed me here. I felt confused because although I loved hearing them, each time I did I was flooded by conflicting thoughts about my mother, and what this omen might portend…
When I was a child I adored my mother – the first woman I ever loved…Unfortunately, my mother didn’t seem to have much use for her daughter, though I did everything I could to please her. A gifted visual artist, my mother loved great horned owls and often drew them. I imitated her, drawing stylized images but I also feared them. The rational explanation for this feeling is, of course, that I feared my mother and equally feared her abandonment of me, so owls became associated with both a fear of women and death. This love and fear of my mother – a distant, cool, unattainable woman dominated my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. It wasn’t until mid-life that I began to separate from her emotionally. It was only then that I began to see her. I recognized that her inability to see me as a person separate from herself ran both ways with disastrous results for both of us. Betrayal characterized our relationship. We gradually became more estranged, and for the last twelve years of her life she refused to see me at all. When she died, initially, all I felt was relief.
It was during mid-life and long before my mother’s death that owls first came into my life. One barred owl flew into the house through a window. Others serenaded me at night. A Snowy owl flew head on almost hitting my windshield. Saw whet owls peered at me during the day and the nights were punctuated by Barred owls whooing at night. I found dead owls on the road, collected their feathers, attended a weekend with a well known Lakota -Souix Medicine Woman who wouldn’t allow me near her because I had “Owl Medicine,” and for these Indigenous peoples, the presence of the owl portended certain death. Because I still associated all owls with my mother these occurrences left me with feelings of dread. However, during the next 25 years a great horned owl never appeared to me, and that was a huge relief.
Up until 11 months ago.
When a convocation of three Great Horned owls surrounded my house and started singing the night of my birthday I sensed that I was crossing a threshold and that my mother was on the other side. Their night calls thrilled me even as I struggled to deal with my fright. The owls kept up their symphony until I left Maine for New Mexico six weeks later. Amazingly, I had only been in Abiquiu one day when Great Horned owls started whooing in the cottonwood forest in the predawn hours. I couldn’t escape the uncanny feeling that the owls and maybe my mother had followed me here…
Because I have had intimate relationships with animals all my life I befriended the owls, taking deep pleasure out of their calls, even as I attempted to deal with my fears and reflected over what their continued presence might mean.
I arrived in Abiquiu in a destabilized condition not having any idea what the winter would bring, whether I would make my home here, unsure of whether to sell my house. I was moving into the last years of my life and I wanted them to count. When I look back now it is easy to see that I was in crisis but at the time the obvious escaped me. As it turned out the winter months were very difficult with me wondering if I had made a terrible mistake.
I was walking on air.
At dawn or at night owls continued to serenade me throughout the winter and spring.
In late May just before moving into my present home I found one owl feather outside of the east window. The owl’s feather graced the first Nicho in the house, followed by a second discovered and given to me by the builder a day or so later.
The first night I spent here the owls sang from the cottonwoods. A few days later I found and added three more owl feathers to the Nicho.
All summer I have been graced by owl presence, especially during the full moons when owls have let me see them in the predawn mornings.
On the morning of September 1st almost one year after hearing them for the first time, a hooting owl awakened me… Then for two weeks – Silence. I couldn’t help wondering if this was the end of the owl serenade that had begun almost one year ago…I experienced a powerful sense of loss.
Two nights ago I had a dream about being abandoned, a painful reoccurring theme. When I awakened I heard an owl calling insistently from the cottonwood forest. Feeling a profound sense of relief I rushed outside to listen. I was astonished and delighted when the persistent calls were answered by another adult owl who then flew across the field to join her mate. Now I listened to a conversation occurring between the two that I had never heard before. This murmuring between the two was so intimate I almost felt like I was intruding as I stood under the cottonwood listening for about 15 minutes. When the sounds ceased I looked up to see the two hidden by cottonwood leaves sitting very close together. Joy engulfed me. They were back! Yesterday morning three owls were hooting, the male sat in the cottonwood, the female and the young one hooted from the next field further away.
Just as I opened the door to take a twilight walk that night I heard two owls conversing nearby, found two owl feathers while walking, and then glimpsed another owl flying over my head to land in a juniper high on the mesa!
Reflecting upon this unusual clump of owl sightings after not hearing them for two weeks I thought again about my mother and owls, acknowledging how much I missed them both. Was it possible that as I approach old age my mother taking the form of an owl was coming to witness and support me, in a way my mother was never able to do during her life?
I think the answer is yes and that that the broken thread between a mother and her daughter is being re-woven by the owls that sing to me at night.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.