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A Wild Calling
“I can’t do this by myself!” I cried out in frustrated grief, surrounded by rampant growth in the orchard of apples and Asian pears, trees overladen with fruit and branches threatening to break off with the weight. “Why aren’t you here? I need your help! I don’t know everything you know! I don’t have your muscle strength!” I yelled to my late farmer-husband, in near-panic.
Angry tears streamed down my face. Why did he leave life just as our dream of a farm was coalescing – with its field of herbs and vegetable gardens maturing after years of keeping eight-foot-tall wild grass at bay and improving the soil, with its orchard, the wee pond, the livestock and fences slowly erected, the woods replanted, my dream of a cow/calf pair for dairy and draft-hauling, the hand-built, solar-efficient barn-house completed, the big herb-drying barn nearly so, constructed of timber from wind-thrown conifers on our land – why? So much accomplished, so much more to be done, and we made a great, hard-working team, each with our own talents. This was our joint dream of self-sufficiency, and we planned to be here for the rest of our days.
And he was my soul-mate, my beloved, a man of broad intellectual and practical interests similar to Thomas Jefferson, well read, designer and builder of house and barn, farm and gardens, teacher, carver, musician, Eagle Scout, orienteer, environmentalist extraordinaire, a gentle man who loved cats. And now he was gone, succumbed in his prime to a fatal cancer just three weeks before. Autumn was beginning, and the realization of the sheer volume of work I faced alone suddenly thumped onto my awareness like a dead horse.
Grieving, pining for him, angry at his leaving me, and feeling guilty for that emotion because I knew how he suffered both in body and in mind for leaving me alone, I stomped into the kitchen for no particular reason. Its East window and door looked out onto the orchard that sunny, mild mid-afternoon.
As I drank a bit of water to soothe my ragged throat, I heard an odd sound through the open window, as if from a strange new animal. Was it a bird? A small mammal? Not a coyote, or bear. Eagle? Cougar? Owl? – but it was daytime, and this didn’t sound like the barred owls which held long conversations with each other in the night woods. Holding my breath, I listened as it called again, sounding a bit more like a bird, but not like any call I’d heard. Low-throated, sharp intonations. Beckoning. Definitely calling, not just talking. The voice became insistent, luring me back outside to the orchard, as if following a Pied Piper of the animal world. I floated into the orchard with soft and hesitating steps.
I paused next to the young Elstar apple tree, no longer hearing the full-throated call, or any birdsong at all. I could feel the breathing of the tree leaves, smell the scent of life around me, and then movement, thought, and time flattened into stillness and anticipation.
Out of this momentary suspension of the world, in silence, a creamy white presence swooped slowly into my right peripheral vision, three arms-lengths away, no higher than eye level, as if taking my measure and ensuring that I witnessed it. A magnificent Barn Owl!
Startled, I turned my head turned and stared at this exquisite Barn Owl with its white, heart-shaped face and creamy under-wings and exposed belly, gliding low past me in seemingly slow motion, stilling my mind and heart, thrilling my being. Individual feathers stood out; its beautiful coat of feathers seemed so soft and warm. I held my breath in awe and wonderment, wishing it would stay near me. The Owl moved gracefully past me, rising slightly without flapping, and veered away toward the woods – and then vanished before entering the woods.
I gasped, stunned, wondering if the Owl actually had disappeared or if I had blinked and missed its entry into the trees. The spell broken once the Owl was out of sight, my brain switched on and remembered that owls can be harbingers of death, in some folk traditions . . . so I foolishly called out after the Owl, saying softly “He’s already dead!” I paused, injecting more ignorance into the moment, and said louder, “If you came for me, I’m not ready!”
Mercifully, I fell silent, and time was suspended once again, restoring dignity and mystery around and within me. A tremendous calm, a great stillness enveloped me; a peacefulness settled onto my heart like a favorite comforter.
Without thinking, it came to me in an instant that my husband and the Owl felt my anguish and agreed to grace me with the unexpected magnificence and power of their beautiful gift, a tiny him riding the back of the Owl, wind blowing back his curly locks, saying “HERE I AM! This is enchantment. Life is everywhere seen and unseen, on this plane and beyond. You are in a beautiful place, surrounded by love and guardians and magic. Be at peace.”