The Owl

By Barbara Horton

God I do not often address, save in exclamations of terror, anguish, or wonder. When Mel, half of my life for fifty-one years, suddenly slipped beyond sleep, beyond responding to my touch, my cry, I may have called upon Him, but I think not, for I found myself in a void, beyond every touchstone I had known or imagined in life — yet not far enough to be with Mel in that vastness into which he had gone.

Then, some two months later, into my diminished world came a particular summer's dusk. Alone on the south porch with the sycamore trees to the east, the oak-rimmed canyon to the west, and an archway of blanched sky bridging the two — I heard without warning or forethought my voice speaking as to one I knew.

"God, send us an owl." Not even a please.

Was it thirty seconds? No more. Dark. Large. Silent. A bird flew from the black trees east across the sky bridge and over the west canyon steep.

Now from within the house family drifts out to join me. I recount, but in the eeriness of it I am in denial. "No owls here in months. Perhaps a red-tailed hawk going to roost."

Dark closes in, save the valley below is strewn with a powder of lights. In due course comes another day. And after, another dusk: the same family, the same south porch, are afloat in the gloaming. This time all see the great dark bird, swerving over us from the east, landing on a bare pinnacle of branch that tops the sycamore abreast our house. The owl shape is unmistakable, even to ear horns confirmed by the fetched binoculars. His detour is leisurely, but still only a detour before he resumes his passage west, up and over the canyon wall.

Humans and owl repeat that performance on the third evening, as though to underline — what? If I knew, perhaps I should know something not yet intended.

Was it simply owl being owl? Was it the sign I had been asking of my husband's shade from his present place, about the grand design of things? A message spoken in the language of two who loved owls and each other? Or . . . ?

Is it possible that the Force commanding a system so beyond our comprehension may sometimes in humor or caprice act to astound his creations? Might he choose to manifest in some form within our human comprehension, taking, as do his creations, solace in that speck of eternity which is an earthly summer's night?


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We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles! What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! — I know no reading of another's experience so startling and informing as this would be. — Henry David Thoreau, The Variorum Walden, pp. 6-7