Four years ago I made a trip to New Mexico to spend the winter and returned for three more winters in a row. A true Night Journey through the Desert. I hadn’t been there three weeks before a Great Horned owl appeared at my door. My dead mother (with whom I had had a devastating relationship and who loved owls) was surfacing as a threat…and I just did not want to believe it.
After a few months I was thrilled to make what I believed to be a genuine woman friend. Ironically, I met her at a feminist gathering. Oh, at last! Up until that point the only woman I currently had a close relationship with was a woman who was a former editor that became a virtual friend. I had only met her once (caveat–watch out for FB friends). My dearest friend Lise (we were thirty years strong) lived too far away for us to see each other although we talked and argued periodically! I was so lonely for a real woman friend that I could see regularly, and share my feelings with honestly … When this woman sought me out I could hardly contain myself. I was that excited.
When I had to leave the house I had rented because of a fire my new friend offered me a place to stay in a trailer on her property. My gratitude overflowed. Once a week or so she would take me on road trips to places I never would have found on my own. To say that I adored her was an understatement. She seemed so kind, so loving, perfect, in every way.
That first spring I had a vivid dream of a clay relief that I should make and give her for her birthday. The pottery had an owl emerging from its center, which seemed odd because I had a difficult relationship with owls because they always brought my mother with them. (After that first owl appearance three weeks after arriving I continued to be haunted by owl presence, although I earnestly tried to make peace with both Great Horned owls and my dead mother). I created the image for my friend in clay and gave it to her for her birthday although I found the image of the emerging Great Horned owl disquieting.
I shared so much of my personal life with my friend that it took almost two winters for me to recognize that our sharing was one sided. She was a private a person, but gradually I realized this woman also deliberately with held herself never allowing personal vulnerability to surface… Still, I accepted her on her own terms.
The first real break between us occurred late in November of that third year when she forgot to tell me that she had discovered bear tracks at the river’s edge for a week until it was almost impossible to read them. My love of bears was legion. How could she, of all people, have neglected to tell me about the tracks I wondered with rising confusion. The word “mean-spirited” surfaced; I swept it away. We were growing apart. And I missed her.
At the winter solstice that year my friend invited me to an outdoor bonfire but forgot to mention that the location had changed. When I arrived no one was there. I waited patiently. When I heard human coyote howls and a discordant ruckus below me I walked down to the beach and discovered that people had gathered there without my knowledge. Everyone else knew where to go. Devastated, I left early after giving my friend a winter solstice gift. The next morning I wrote a poem to assuage my grief.
I attempted to talk to my friend about what had happened two days later but she dismissed my concerns saying only that she was sorry; she meant no harm. I believed her.
In retrospect the message was clear and I totally missed it even though I had written about it. I was dealing with a Coyote Woman who could shape shift and become someone else at will. Poetry (like dreaming) never lies.
Nothing was the same after that incident although the shift occurred gradually. I began to feel the familiar female loneliness. Although we remained cordial, a visit with her left me enervated – empty inside. We stopped having road trips. The following fall when I casually asked her about the date of the next winter solstice gathering her response educated me. ‘She assumed that I wouldn’t want to attend.’ When she let it slip that her boyfriend resented my reference to whites acting like Indians – he claimed he had Native blood – the first time I ever heard that statement- and that everyone else was ‘upset’ with me, I got it.
My friend had orchestrated this story by sharing my poem and garnering support for herself at my expense to deal with her own double nature, and I had carried the full responsibility for last year’s confusing winter solstice episode because I had no idea what had gone wrong that night and assumed it must have been my perceptions that had been skewed.
In December her mother died and I heard a Great Horned owl hooting from her rooftop on a pre-dawn walk. The summer before while she was dealing with her mother’s failing health I supported her by writing to her in Switzerland every single day for over a month. Yet when it was time to release her mother’s ashes I met my friend with a group of others on their way down to the beach. I was not included in this ritual though I had surely been a part of the process. I was stunned and hurt.
Although I saw my friend a few times over the next couple of months she filled the void gossiping about others I barely knew and didn’t care about. She was kind enough to buy me some groceries in Sante Fe, a place my dyslexia prevented me from driving to and this was when we visited. I spent an introverted winter and I had a remarkable life changing experience that began early in December and peaked on the night of that fourth winter solstice at a talk I attended. When I left hurriedly the following April because of Covid/and work that needed to be done to my house I texted her goodbye.
After my arrival home I attempted to explain why I left in such a hurry (although she knew my leave taking was imminent) – but this attempt to communicate was ignored just like every other. She responded obliquely saying that she had let go of ‘owl house’ – (the casita I lived in but had certainly NOT named owl house!) apparently unable to tell me that she had dismissed me from her life. The last time she was at the casita a Great Horned owl scared her by rising up from the ground. Hmmm – this visitation spoke volumes about her, not me. I was gone.
I let go then and used my time to question how I had allowed myself to be so taken in. I chose this woman as my friend. This was my 50 percent and I had to own it. Once again my vulnerability had gotten me into trouble; I needed woman friends. Yet, the women that I allowed into my life always seemed to be Coyote Women – Sphinx Women – Shape shifters – Owl women like my mother. Women who garnered power through silence and deceit; power and control the opposite of love. The pattern had repeated once again. There’s no place to go with these women I concluded sadly. And yet, to this day I still miss the relationship I thought I had with her. I’m realistic enough to know that I will not be freed of this particular vulnerability, my need for female friends. But I can hope that this last experience will stay front and center sharpening my awareness around ANY woman that attempts to befriend me in the future.
Meanwhile, it was time to turn back to Nature and my writing to heal and for solace and support.
And I did.
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 Maine.