Growing up in the woods, I was fortunate to experience frequent visits from local wildlife: bald eagles, Douglas squirrels, eastern gray squirrels, rough-skinned newts, salamanders, brown bats, raccoons, and the occasional deer or owl. It was always a treat when an owl stopped by for a visit. We would usually be alerted to its presence by the sudden, riotous, squawking of crows, who were none too pleased with its arrival. The large wall of windows in my three-story childhood home provided a perfect front row seat for viewing the wonders of the treetops.
I have always been captivated by the calls of the Great Horned Owls of my childhood, and by the chilling vocalizations of the Barred Owls that frequented the marshy areas behind my bedroom later in life. But still, these were not every day occurrences, and so they were always special. I feel like as the years passed, we didn't see the Great Horned Owls as often, so it was a wonderful surprise when recently they suddenly became regular companions, and messengers of great healing.
Over the past six years, my daughter and I spent many afternoons at my mother's home doing housework and yardwork when her health began to fail and she became less mobile. It was always a time fraught with many emotions - worries over my mom's health, and the sadness of the inevitable loss of my childhood home (my father had passed away some years before). I was relieved that my mom was able to stay in that home, even with increasing health challenges, because she was very happy there. My daughter and I did whatever we could to make that possible.
Over the span of those years, I began to notice something. Every time we walked outside to start our yard work, it wasn't long before we'd hear a Great Horned Owl. Every time. I remember the feeling vividly because I had so much sadness and worry in my heart about my mom, and so much love for every tree, fern, and stump that provided an ideal playground in my younger years. One day soon this place would belong to someone else, and that thought was more than I could bear.
But the presence of the owl always thrilled us and gave us a great sense of peace. We'd go about our weeding, pruning and hauling, carrying on intimate conversations with our owl friend both silently and aloud while we worked. We felt comforted and watched over in whatever time he chose to stay with us, and we came to rely on that reassurance to soothe our heavy hearts.
There was a swimming pool in the neighborhood I grew up in, which was the social hub for that small, tight-knit community, and I loved being able to take my own kids there over the years when we'd visit my parents. One warm summer day several years ago, my middle son and his girlfriend came for a swim. Our timing was great as we were the only ones there. Afterward we were chatting in the pool yard before walking back to my mom's place, when suddenly there was a quiet flurry to the side of us.
There on the weathered wooden pool yard fence sat our owl! He was glorious! Large and majestic, he gazed at us unwaveringly with his intense yellow eyes, steady and focused. We all froze for that moment and were amazed at how long he remained. I didn't want to move, and didn't dare to breathe. He was so intent on us that I didn't want that moment of connection to end. When he finally flew off, we all felt certain that we had been visited by a special messenger, and I knew I would never forget the peace and wonderment of that moment.
My mom passed a couple of years later and the time came to remove some belongings that I had stored at her house. I was consumed with such sorrow and loss on what I knew was our last visit to that house. My daughter and I walked room by room to say our goodbyes, and headed up to the car to take our leave. Suddenly I panicked. Our owl! How could I leave our owl?
We opened the car doors and tears streaming down my face, I told my daughter that I couldn't bear leaving our feathered friend that had gotten us through so many difficult days. I couldn't bear to think that I would never see or hear him again. And suddenly, there came that familiar hoot. He was there! He knew, and had come to say goodbye! My heart swelled with relief and joy as we stood and listened together, thanking him for everything.
Still, it was wrenching to drive away. I suppose after all the high-voltage emotions of those years, I then tried to stuff some of my deep sorrow and grief down to a place where I could carry on with life, work and all my responsibilities.
As a highly empathetic, sensitive person, I always experience the world in high definition with the volume turned up full blast, and I had to find a way to dampen the noise of my grief. I couldn't think about our owl because otherwise it would take my breath away in what felt like a mounting panic attack. I think I feared that I had lost a safety net, and a reliable source of strength and comfort - someone who knew the details of our emotions and was unfailingly there with support and encouragement.
Over the last year and half since my mom's passing I have had many emotions to sift and sort. I've had lots to process and have had to find a way forward. About two weeks ago, standing in my kitchen, thoughts of our owl came to mind, and I let the emotions rush in. I felt awash in sadness, but also gratitude, and yearned for our mysterious and loving companion. Still deep in that thought, I walked over to our sliding glass door so I could unplug the Christmas lights that drew power from the porch outlet before heading to bed.
A freezing blast of winter air greeted my face as I leaned forward out the door to grab the plug, and then I heard it. That familiar hooting that had given us so much comfort! We live near woods here too, but in the 9 years we've been here, I have never heard a Great Horned Owl from this home. I was stunned, and thought my ears were deceiving me. I stepped out onto the patio, unfazed by the cold, hard concrete on my bare feet, and strained my ears to listen. Please, let it be my owl, I prayed. Please don't let it be my imagination! There it was again. And again, in a beautiful, rhythmic cadence. This time, he was calling to a mate, and their dialogue continued for a good long time.
I called my daughter to come. We stood quietly side-by-side peering at the fir trees silhouetted by the night sky in the distance, locked in a sacred moment of remembrance, wonder and gratitude. Our owl had found us, right when I yearned for his presence, and when my heart was aching to hear him again.
Do I think this was coincidence? Absolutely not. I have had many experiences in my life that have shown me how thin the veil is between this world and the next, and how nature, in all its unfathomable wisdom and wonder reveals itself with messages of healing and guidance at just the right times.
Try, if you can, to peel away the layers of busyness and noise that surround us, and step outside to listen. Listen to the wind in the trees, the swaying of the grasses, the singing of the birds. Hear the rhythmic patter of the rain on a winter's night and let it comfort you. Marvel at the millions of shining diamonds on crisp, fresh snow, and feel the carefree joy of a snowflake as it dances to earth. Look for the signs, and open your heart. There are messages for us all, if only we will listen.
Wishing you all the wonder of life's great mysteries, and the healing power of nature's touch.
Never stop believing,
Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder