illustration by Ruben Castillo
It wasn’t hovering. And looming isn’t the right word either. It wasn’t looming or hovering when I first saw it, when it first saw me. And I’d think nothing of it except that I woke pre-dawn, woke up, got up from my bed, got dressed, walked downstairs to the kitchen, turned the coffee pot on. Through the window into the backyard I could see that we had left some dishes on the patio table the night before, so I opened the back door, walked down the stairs with everything still covered in darkness, darkness both above my head in the sky and in my head where I was still slowly waking up. I picked up one of the dishes. Then out of the corner of my eye, movement. A flicker. Not a flicker, a swoop. A large bird. Hawk. Vulture. Enormous crow. No, none of those. An owl. Perched on the back edge of a chair less than six feet from me, closer than six feet, too close for comfort.
I flapped my wings. No, I mean it flapped its wings and I swung my arms out wide. Its wings were wider than my outstretched arms. An owl. Still. Silent. More of a wisp of a presence than the thing we call bird, the thing we call owl. In a moment, complete stillness, and then stillness broke into movement. I flapped my arms wide, stumbled back, flew toward the door. The owl leapt — no, leaned forward. Opened its wings even wider, and with three slow beats of the wings the owl flew off, around the edge of my neighbor’s garage, and disappeared. Flew elsewhere. Vanished from my yard, my sight, my presence. I stumbled inside, regained my composure, poured a cup of coffee, and sat near a window through which the daylight slowly leaned up over the horizon.
That was weeks ago. Many things have happened since then, in my life and elsewhere in the world. Work and play. War and calm. Meals and earthquakes and meetings and sleep. And I would think nothing of it except that the owl appeared again. Last week I visited a friend who lives 30 miles north of the Palo Duro Canyon in west Texas. I was tired from traveling on the night I arrived, so after a late dinner I went to bed. I fell asleep easily. The owl appeared in my dream. No, entered, arrived in my dream. Or perhaps the owl was already there, perhaps I came to the owl. Perhaps we were both, simply, present. Neither of us moving. Just keeping company in a dream, the owl and me.
Nothing happened, nothing worth thinking about. And I would think nothing of it, except I woke early morning in the guest room, got dressed and went to the kitchen where my friend was sitting with a cup of coffee. As he poured a cup for me he said, “Did you see the owl last night?” I started to say yes, but then remembered that I had seen the owl in my dream. I said I saw an owl in a dream. “Huh,” he said. “No, I mean the owl in the back yard.” My friend told me he had stayed up late. Around midnight he went outside to smoke a cigarette. Under the moon in a clear sky he looked up into the leafless branches of the elm trees. Hovering over him, perched on a high branch, looming there over his head: an owl. He swears it was an owl. Such a large owl, he said. I said I know, or at least I started to say I know, but I knew it wouldn’t make sense to him, I knew it didn’t make any sense, and it would do no good to tell him more about my dream — what was there to tell? It was just a lot to explain. So I fell silent, drank my coffee, changed the subject.
And I would think nothing of it, except we drove to New Mexico later that day, hiked up into the mountains above Taos where we trudged through the remaining snow, then we climbed back down and drove until we found a place in a high desert valley where we could watch the sunset. I wandered off a distance from my friend. No clouds. Only the light of the setting sun against the clear sky, against the mountains and mesas, against the canyon, against the sagebrush. And against isn’t the right word either. But neither is through. Or within. Or surrounding. Perhaps all, perhaps none of these words. Perhaps the light of the setting sun was hovering or looming. And I, myself, what is this lightness? What is the right word? And I’d think nothing of it, except I think nothing of it still. Here this morning, pre-dawn, coffee, a moment of stillness. Arms outstretched wide. For a moment I think nothing.