An owl calling

Bird Droppings February 4, 2021

An owl calling

Owls have been on my mind for two days now. Last night I woke for a few minutes; as it turns out, I forgot to turn on the ceiling fan. While up, I stuck my nose out the door, perhaps intuition who knows when wandering about the house half asleep. Deep in the pines, an owl called and of all memories to unlock an instance about ten years ago flashed before my mind’s eye. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon; just after school, I was made aware of a situation that at first caught me by surprise. A former student from years gone by had been arrested in another county and was being held for immigration to be deported. Since she was three years old, she had been in the US and was raising her three kids here. As it turns out, she had never received a green card, and her boyfriend of seven years was also illegal. Both worked hard, and she had graduated from high school, where I knew her as a student. I was asked to see her as, along with all of this, she has a severe learning disability in reading. Even back then, all the news about deportations was on my mind.

I seldom mention being ordained but being ordained has certain privileges, and after all scheduled visitors are permitted into the jail, pastors can go in. So, I went in, and I visited for nearly forty-five minutes with one of my favorite students of all time at the county detention center. We talked about how she had come to me almost fifteen years before with a big what if. She proceeded to tell me a friend of hers was pregnant and what she could do and to who she should go. It only took a few minutes until I realized the friend was herself. I recalled how she sat on the sofa in my room, propping her feet up as she completed school while pregnant, and would come into my room to rest.

She nearly came to tears as she started talking about her babies, who I have pictures of hanging on my door at school and have held and laughed with several times. I said no to crying since I did not want to cry before a former student. We talked about jail food and how she wanted a homemade tortilla and eggs and all the trimmings as soon as she was out. It was nearly nine when I walked the almost half-mile from the visiting room to my car, which in my haste, had locked my car keys in and had to have a police officer help me get the door open. As I drove home, I recalled all of the publicity about illegal aliens and immigration laws and how people in business provide jobs at a cheaper rate. An article on banks in the former bailout applying for nearly twenty-one thousand visas for white-collar positions. They can get foreigners for less money in attorney and accounting positions than US citizens. Then I am brought full circle to our current frenzy to build a wall. When will we look in the mirror? We were building a wall about us, not anyone else. We are afraid of ourselves in this disposable world we live in.

I thought of a young girl who had worked and had finished school and raised three kids and was being held because of where she had been born, not where she was raised and grew up and gone to school. Yet, we had people receiving huge bonuses who created and caused one of the worst financial crises in history, walking around free and going on vacation. I was mad when I got home, thinking of how greed had driven our society to where it was, how jobs for immigrants are provided for by the very people wanting a wall.

I wrote some of this a little over ten years ago; however, last night, early in the morning, a great horned owl called several times, waking me up and bringing back many memories and thoughts beyond the memories of a beautiful person who had been sitting in a jail cell away from her kids.

I sat listening even though half asleep as I do every morning, and today the pine needles have made a lace pattern in the spaces between the twigs against the clarity of the sky. The sky was cold and clear, and raindrops splattered all around as I wandered out. When I first went out, a faint chorus of crickets greeted me, so I thought, but it was the cold ringing in my ears, but off in the distance, a great horned owl called. It has been several years since a student at school asked if I knew what an owl meant. It is funny how bits and pieces of memory come back.

It was not all that long ago that several times a student reminded me to call her mother about the pow-wow coming up in the spring. Her mother coordinates the local Native American gatherings and dances. Perhaps this is what got me thinking, as many southeastern tribes consider the owl a harbinger of evil or dread. For some eastern tribes, an owl calling was considered a sign of death; as you move across the Mississippi, the various tribe’s attitude about owls changes. Owls become symbols of power, of wisdom, of a fine line between here and the spirit world.

Owls calling in the dark is a haunting sound for one person and darkness, yet a few days ride away, the same haunting sounds bring light. As the weather warms up, I will hear owls nearly every morning, and several will often call each other. I was up in the North Georgia Mountains with my middle son on an environmental field trip; it has been some time. We stayed at a spot I consider very special, Camp Mikel, a summer camp owned and operated by the Episcopal Arch Diocese of Atlanta.

The camp lies in a valley along two ridges. The cabins are on one ridge and across the fields and marsh on another ridge, and the camps famous cross on top of the mountain. The camp has an ongoing program with a group that provides school educational experiences in the mountains on habitat ecology and environmental workshops. It was about nine o’clock, and our group went out onto the playing fields with a tape recorder. We started calling owls. In a matter of a few minutes, several were calling back. Owls in our area range from a tiny screech owl to the great horned owl.

One of our other exercises during the day was dissecting owl pellets. It seems owls eat various creatures, and the parts which are not digested are barfed up in a ball and dropped, usually at their roosting spot. Scientists can study the diet and health of the owl population through the pellets. As they opened up the brown mass of their pellet, one of the students in our group uncovered a skull. Soon several of us had found skulls of shrews and mice, rats and squirrels. Our instructor was interested in this first one; it was different, and we carefully cleaned it off. It was a screech owl skull. The great horned owl had devoured the smaller owl.

As I thought of my morning, pondering what the day would bring and listening to the Great horned owls calling all around me, the sense of oneness with nature was overwhelming. I learned that each owl has a very distinctive call back at my environmental retreat.  I was also intrigued at how we all surmise differences in the same stimuli, not only the owls and owls calling, but it could be in words used in a hallway at school. One person hears humor, another slander.

“The Lenape Indians believed that if they dreamt of an Owl, it would become their guardian. To the Mojave Indians of Arizona, one would become an Owl after death, this being an interim stage before becoming a water beetle and ultimately pure air. According to Navajo legend, the creator, Nayenezgani, told the Owl after creating it, “…in days to come, men will listen to your voice to know what will be their future” California Newuks believed that after death, the brave and virtuous became Great Horned Owls. The wicked, however, were doomed to become Barn Owls. In the Sierras, native peoples believed the Great Horned Owl captured the souls of the dead and carried them to the underworld.” Deane P. Lewis, Owls in mythology

I was listening several years ago to several students; for one, what appeared to be just a comment became words to fight for, and I had to intercede. I listened as one of my students in a group exercise about the classic novel The Time Machine by H.G. Wells said if she could go back in time, she would go back to the civil war and tell the south how to win the war. If she had been telling me that, I would have expected it knowing her and her family, her group consisted of two Afro-Americans, and the comment offended them.

My student probably was not even aware of her comment being offensive; she has serious issues with social skills. But the exact words in another group of students here in rural Georgia may have been accepted and applauded. It could have been the same words and yet a significantly different reaction. I heard the owl and sought to listen deeper.

How do I respond to a person who hears only the dark side and believes only in darkness? How do we listen and try and rationalize words with so many meanings so many interpretations? A college student from South Georgia was writing about how we change society. I offered by example, but that is so difficult; only one person we interact with each day in life; if we maintain our example and interact in genuine trust and honesty, that connection will be seen, understood, and eventually copied.

Not everyone will make the connection, but some will continue the call. I heard the owl today, and I will listen tomorrow, tell others, and maybe one day, who knows. Take each moment and second in life as you wholeheartedly believe, live with trust, and set the example. Others will see and hear and soon two people and soon three, and maybe we can all hear an owl in the same way before the end of times. Perhaps peace will be spoken and understood in the same manner from tribe to tribe, family to family, person to person. Maybe the puzzle pieces will fall in place, and the final picture will be one we all can be proud to have been a part of. So please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and heart and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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