Nothing but an Owl

The other morning, I was out in my yard way before dawn – when the owls are still making their rounds, their ghostly hoots paced so that you actively listen for the next one.  I found myself holding my breath, striving to hear where the owl might be and hoping he was close enough to catch a glimpse.  I’ve lived out here more than 22 years and have never seen an owl on my property – but I’ve heard them a few times a month.

Something about the hoot of an owl speaks to me – it’s why I live where I do – a rural community outside of Austin, far enough away from the craziness that I can still enjoy darkness and quiet.  The early morning belongs to the owls.  There are few people awake.  Even fewer animals, although the owl’s presence means there are creatures here trying to avoid being made into owl pellets. I just can’t hear them.

You Can’t Get This in the City

There’s a peacefulness that doesn’t happen any other time of day except this early in the morning.  No cars go by. The only light is one installed on my property by our electric company on their pole.  I tried doing without the light for a month – it was too dark.  I’d love to have it on a switch, but that’s not how the power company does its thing.  It’s a binary deal.  This feeling, this quiet time of the morning, is why I moved here – to enjoy stillness – you can’t get this in a subdivision.  You can’t get this in a city.  Most people take weekend trips away from those places to get what’s available to me every morning.

The break from the noise is good for my soul. I swear I feel the calm come over me when I step outside in the morning.  The cold mornings are even better because most Texans, while tough as nails, are not good in the cold.  I grew up outside Chicago, so the cold doesn’t bother me.  It brings a different type of quiet and stillness.  But that’s not what I have this morning. This morning it’s just the owl and me.  I’m still standing in my yard, trying to triangulate his location based on his hollow call.  There’s no sense of distance in an owl’s hoot – he could be just across the yard or a half mile away – sound travels strangely across mornings.

It had been a clear night – the stars were out, but the moon was either off cycle or had gone down for the night – so it was black – with the speckled sky above me and a hoo hoo hoo somewhere beyond me.  I stand there, enjoying the moment, the lack of civilization’s noise and clamor, enjoying nature as best I can.  Calm comes over me in waves – which is good. 

I Needed This

I need it this year – my job has been stressful.  For a few months, I wasn’t sure I’d have a job, and at 54, that’s a scary thought.  But here, in the calm of the morning, with the owl rooting me on, I feel healed, nearly invincible – knowing that I’m not. I need this type of morning.  I need every morning like this.

A simple chore brought me out this morning.  I had forgotten to take the trash to the “curb” (we don’t have a curb, just a place where the driveway, street,,, and yard meet), and I have to have the can out before 6 AM.  It’s way before 6, and I have this moment on the way back from dragging the wheeled trashcan to its weekly spot.  I feel guilty because the noise of the trashcan has most certainly disturbed my owl, although I can’t tell from his tone after I put the can where it goes.  The other birds still aren’t up – the neighbor’s rooster isn’t even making his rounds yet, I’ve found a magic moment or two, and I try to squeeze the marrow out of them while I can.

My wife is probably wondering what happened to me – if I stay too long, she’ll come out and break the spell.  Sometimes, you need to be alone.  We’re not good at it anymore – even when we are alone, we’re reaching out to others via this or that social platform.  So I try to do the opposite. I try to be alone – away, by myself, with myself, and for myself.  I let my thoughts ramble around in my head and see if there’s a deeper meaning. Typically, it’s difficult because of all the distractions and noises and interruptions, but at this moment, I almost have it.  I can feel the meaning just outside my grasp as the owl hoots again – now he’s toying with me, teasing me – telling me that I’ll never catch the thoughts I’m chasing.  

I shake it off. He’s a predator. What does the owl know of peace?  He operates under its guise, but he is not peaceful, not by any means.  He’s like an eagle – majestic but brutal, efficient, and highly adapted to these calm dark mornings.  The main difference between owls and raptors is the nighttime operation of the owls – raptors are only active in the daytime.

I Never Tire of the Hoot

I want to hear him again – I never get enough of that hoot.  Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night, awakened by this owl, and he’s closer than he is now.  He’ll be in my backyard – not 100 feet from my bed, making his call.  It’s an odd feeling being woken up by something so soft and calming.  Unlike the roar of a more ferocious animal, the owl’s call wakes me slowly and naturally but leaves me with just enough sleep to allow me to roll over and drift right back off – enjoying the calm call, knowing that he’s hunting something I don’t want in my backyard – hopefully, mice and the bad snakes, hopefully not the feral cats that I try to help survive.

Inevitably, a car comes by, and the moment is gone.  I stand for a few more seconds until realizing that, indeed, the moment has passed, and I go inside.  My wife looks at me with “that look,” which designates a question of what took me so long to take out the trash. “An owl,” I say and sit down at my laptop.  She knows me well enough to know that I won’t speak for another hour, trying to recapture the stillness and silence I just experienced. It’s a futile effort. Words can’t describe the lack of something, the pleasant void that exists where things usually are.  That’s OK. It doesn’t mean I can’t try.

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