Clear caution: if references to religious faith bother you, you won’t care for this post.
We live on a quarter-acre of hilly property, about half of which is grass that I must irrigate and mow. Lately times have been a bit discouraging for Deb and I, owing to some life setbacks that relate to business and the law (no, we aren’t in trouble with it or anything). Most of you probably know that she and I are pagan, as in, we profess faiths that make us not People of the Book (Muslims, Christians, Jews). This means that we see evidence of the divine in nature, most times, and while her beliefs and mine differ, they have a fair bit in common.
Lately I am lamed somewhat with knee trouble, but in at least some basics of yard maintenance, the show must go on. Irrigation is one such, and a couple of weeks ago I was doing the annual test and startup rituals. It was a good year, with no failed valves and no yard-high gushers of water. I was making the rounds of the yard as the timer went through all six stations, periodically rewarding me with a surprise soakdown. Since our piping is set up with great inefficiency–the same pipe waters a couple spots in the front yard and several in the back–this means a lot of walking around to observe results, adjust misguided sprinklers, and generally figure out what will need help.
One of my favorite parts of the property is a magnolia tree. It’s odd. The patio is poured around it. In winter, it develops little pussy willow pods that in spring will break into lovely violet, magenta, pink and white flowers. Also in spring, it produces little seed pods that will grow to the size of hot dogs, then fall. Inside them are bright orange seeds. If not watched, Fabius (our Labrador retriever) will eat them, as he will eat nearly anything just to see if it’s any good. A great joy of spring here is to sit on the patio shaded by a spreading tree full of flowers; they had come and gone.
On the day I was testing the irritation system (as I usually call it), I was making my way across the patio past the magnolia when I saw several splotches of bird droppings, brightest white, on the patio under the magnolia. We get a lot of birds on the property, attracted by various fruit trees and vines (plum, apple, cherry, grape), so I am rarely surprised but always pleased. I leave a lot of dense underbrush around the edges, to enable the quail to find impenetrable shelter to raise their little quail families. Ah, I thought, a new nest in the magnolia! Hurrah! Wonder what kind of birds they are? I went over to the obvious spot, saw a dark shape on the branch. Didn’t look like a nest at all. I was maybe five feet from it, almost directly below, when I saw the eyes.
It was a small owl, maybe 8″ high, just looking at me. She didn’t scare. I just gazed up at her (I think it was a hen Western screech owl based on the size and later research; thank you, Rob and Jennifer) for a bit, and she back at me. In eleven years of residence here, we have never before seen or heard a single owl, much less in broad daylight, much less perched in the magnolia and willing to let people approach so near. Without making sudden movements, I went to the house and called Deb to come out with her camera. Out came my wife, camera in hand: “Oh, my god! We never had an owl before! She’s beautiful!” Deb hurried to snap a lot of pictures; the owl followed us with her eyes but did not scare. Hi. I’m an owl!
Then I realized that this was bigger than simply a treasured moment sighting an extremely cool little owl in our yard. Deb’s tutelary is Athena, Greek goddess of a lot of things: business, warfare, victory, law, crafts, wisdom. All of which, of late, come very much into focus for Deb and I as we deal with some adversity. Rather more regularly devout than Deb, and though I am Asatru (Germanic heathen…we are the Viking pagans, in essence), in my regular nightly homages to my gods, I continue also to honor the Hellenic gods. Athena among them; Athena’s symbol is the owl, seen on much ancient Athenian coinage and art dedicated to the city’s tutelary and namesake. It would very much seem I might not have just been talking to the midnight wind.
I mentioned this to Deb and suggested she go in and get some raw meat and a glass of wine. Maybe the owl wouldn’t want the meat, but it was in the nature of offering. We did a small observance of welcome and blessing as the owl watched us. If there were any sprinklers malfunctioning, I’d just have to find out about them later. We watched for a while, then left her in peace. Either way one looks at it, it was a marvel. If one is not spiritually inclined, we got to see a wonderful owl, and got closer to her than one ever logically expects. I myself am not the type to believe in coincidences that are too multi-faceted. To Deb and I, this owl symbolized favor, hope, support and guidance in difficult times, a sense of being less alone against adversity.
For those who read this far, here’s one of Deb’s pictures of the owl.