The Owl Story
It happened in Westwood, California in 1987– The Land of Oz, the place of imagination and big dreams. The kids were almost grown. Katie was a horrendous teenager that I wanted to disown until she turned thirty. Heather was struggling with the shallowness and mindlessness of the LA kids, and the lifestyle those vapid personalities create. It was winter and chilly for Southern California. I had on a heavier coat as I leashed up Allie for a walk around the block.
I liked the quiet at night. I liked that there was never anyone on the street. As we turned the corner, I sensed it before I saw it. I felt its whisper of wing past my ear as it swooped low towards Allie then soared quickly up to the roof of a three-story apartment building. Stunned! I couldn’t believe what I had seen, but there it was on the rooftop. I held my arm up like a falconer beckoning her wild bird back. As I did, it spread its white wings, and lifted softly into the air aiming its body toward me. I ran. I was scared. I thought it would hurt Allie.
Ducking into the cover of a doorway, I stayed out of sight peeking every now and then into the sky to see if it was hovering. Heart pounding, I ventured out dragging my poor dog, walking quickly, breathless until I got back to the apartment. Explaining what had happened to the kids, elicited a “That’s cool” from them; yet, it was more than cool, it was exhilarating, frightening, and wild.
Nothing further happened for a couple of weeks. I was certain whenever I walked Allie that it was just a one-time event. Then, as before, it came softly from behind – a soft exhalation of air next to my ear as the bird appeared in the corner of my eye. Again, adrenaline surged through me, but this time I stood and watched as it soared to the rooftop perching regally at the edge, watching me. We stared at each other, waiting for the other to move. I was the first, as I wanted to get back home, but I scoured the night sky looking to see if it followed.
She was a white Owl. I asked everyone in the neighborhood if such creatures lived there. Most people had no idea, and those who did said some were there many years ago or so they thought. I would see owls on rooftops periodically. Some were clay decoys, but others moved and ruffled feathers. It was disorienting, and it could have been delusional, if Heather had not seen it once or twice when I jammed on brakes passing small LA shopping plaza areas.
The Owl journey physically began on an LA winter night. It became a spiritual journey while grocery-shopping at Whole Foods in Beverly Hills. Approaching the checkout counter, my eye caught the cover of a magazine half-hidden behind the usual tabloid fare. It looked like an owl eye. When I removed the tabloids, an Owl was gloriously gracing the cover of something called “Shaman’s Drum.” I threw it into the cart with little thought of how the picture of an Owl and the magazine would change my life.
Thumbing through the pages, reading stories about shamans and indigenous cultures, I was enthralled by a little-known worldview, and unprepared for the immensity of my fifth Defining Moment.
The end pages contained ads for shamanic tools for purchase. I saw an ad for a shamanic drumming class in Eagle Rock. It was about 45 minutes from where I lived and I decided to try it. I had no idea what shamanic drumming was or the reason for it, but I was open.
The woman’s house was in a typical suburban neighborhood but inside told a different story. There were mats on the floor circling a tribal cloth that had four candles surrounding interesting looking objects – a wing, a claw, and crystals. She called it an altar. The only altar I had known was in a church. She explained what shamanic drumming and journeying was and said that night we would journey for a power animal. I had no idea what that was, but I dutifully lay on the mat with a cloth covering my eyes. I did as she explained, traveling down through the roots of a tree when the drumming started, into a tunnel and out into a beautiful landscape.
I asked for an animal to appear, and instantly an incredible owl swooped in like a long-lost friend. We sailed and soared for a bit until the drum call brought me back. She explained that if the same animal appeared three times, it was my power animal. Three times, she drummed, and three times the owl flew into my world. I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t believe the synchronicity of the Westwood owl with the shamanic owl.
Were they related, and what was the meaning, and why me? I wondered. The woman called it spirituality, which blew the east coast “religion-belongs-in-a-church” spirituality doors off my mind, a mind desperate for new perspectives and new meaning.
I went to Eagle Rock a few more times but I couldn’t devote the time to make it a regular event. I did spend hours in LA bookstores, however perusing the spirituality and the anthropology sections, discovering Michael Harner’s work and Mircea Eliade, and new age types who wrote books on animal symbolism. The owl was a symbol and pet for Athena the Greek Goddess. It was also a symbol of death in Native American cultures. I had seen a TV movie years before called “I Heard the Owl Call My Name.” The owl was informing the character that he would soon die. I didn’t think I was going to die physically, but I wondered if I might be dying to my old New York self.
I discovered books by Angeles Arrien that deeply resonated with me. The “Four Fold Way” and her amazing book on Tarot Cards, ignited new insights and interests. In the bookstores, intuition guided me toward sections and books that were outside my normal interests. I spent three years reading everything I could about this other world. I would often think about the owl, but I had no idea how to take it deeper other than reading other’s thoughts or instructions. It never occurred to me to create a sacred space or daily practice honoring my newfound awareness.
At almost 40, cast upon the palm-treed sunny streets of Southern California, I was out of my element, a duck out of water, a stranger in a stranger land. I thought it held my dreams and hopes for a new beginning; instead, it was a transitional nightmare. I think back on all the people I knew in LA whose failed hopes and personal nightmares were camouflaged behind the wheels of their leased BMW’s and Porches. The attention to superficial detail in body and mind
disguised the sadness that leeched from endless conversations of all their pending deals, and almost finished, almost optioned scripts.
My 17-year-old daughter was disintegrating and my 14-year-old daughter was miserable. Professionally treading water, I was lonely, angry, and lost. When the Owl dipped silently from the cool December sky, she touched that misery. Like a skilled surgeon, she cut open my aching soul, removed a mass of doubt, and planted seeds of hope in misery’s soil. It didn’t come easily however. It took another ten years to incorporate the enormity of those quiet moments.
Now, at 70, thirty years later, the idea that everything is inter-connected is accepted knowledge in the quantum science community. Synchronicities in our outer world are manifestations of our inner thoughts and actions. The physical owl was perhaps the deepest part of my psyche speaking to me in symbolic language. I had the choice to think of her as an anomaly – no big deal. And I had the choice to think of her as a gift from mysterious realms that would lead me on a journey of meaning and purpose. As the years unfolded, I realized I had chosen the second.
Luna, the Owl’s, Flight
Luna flew yesterday. Her soul flew from her aged body – her wing healed; her spirit free from cages.
It is a deeply intimate experience to share the passing of a physical being’s life – be it human or animal. To cradle a wild owl who in health would never allow such intimacy, who in dying relinquished all wildness to human kindness was an honor. As she weakened on Saturday and we knew for sure she was dying, we wrapped her in a towel and brought her inside. I couldn’t bear the idea of her dying on the floor of her cage. The talons that in health could break one’s arm softened. She could barely keep her eyes open; her breathing was shallow. She hadn’t eaten in a while, so she wasn’t getting water. We gave her a few droppers full.
It was raining and windy outside and we sat by the fire holding her gently. She survived the night Saturday, but barely. Her head bobbed like a newborn baby and like a newborn we had to hold it. I realized she didn’t want to die inside. She didn’t know inside. So, in my pj’s and slippers I took her outside in the rain and the wind. Wrapped like a newborn in the towel, the wind blew her feathers and she half opened her eyes. She moved her bobbing head to the north, the west and the south as if bowing to the directions in solemn prayer, breathing in the wildness of the day, feeling the rain on her beak and then releasing her head back into the towel.
I held her close and told her it was time to let go as if she were human. I was amazed at her tenacity for life. I was determined for her to die in the rain and the wind. I watched as her breathing became more and more shallow and then – two deep breaths – her eyes opened – and she was gone.
Unlike our reciprocated love for dogs or other domesticated animals, a wild animal knows only the wild even in captivity. Luna was wild. Our bond was symbolic. The last day of her life we viscerally exchanged energy. Perhaps I anthropomorphized her head bows to the three directions, but it seemed clear to me that life’s meaning was sacredly shown, profoundly simple and complex, a fleeting moment of understanding that words hold no power to describe and therein lies the power of symbols and power animals. I honor Luna for a life not necessarily fully lived with her wing broken but well-lived in the company of humans.