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The Gift

Driving for home, it is late and I am tired. My heart begins to vibrate. I am getting close to Elsewhere, that place where my understanding shifts. I can feel it coming.

What's this? The headlights illuminate a large bird lying in the road. Her wing points straight up at the moon, signaling like a flag. Could the wind move her wing that way? I turn my truck around to check on her.

She is unconscious. I pick her up and weigh the situation. She's about the size of a cat. Hollow bones and powder-soft feathers make her look big, but she is very light. Nothing appears to be broken, however, she is not out of the woods yet. Intent on seeing her in more light, I gently set her through the window of my camper top.

I lift a lump of bird out of my truck and hold my bundle close to my chest. My dingo dog, Jake, welcomes us home with a song and dance. Naturally, he is excited. Young, strong, and beautiful, he's got definite ideas. Cattledogs can make their voices vibrate so loud it stuns small animals.

"Let me tell you how I think this should go," he hollers.

My ears are ringing. "I can't believe you're using this trick on me at a time like this." I shoot back at him.

Halfway to the house, his intensity spurs the owl to heroic effort. An armful of wild-eyed raptor wakes up. Intuition becomes a tumultuous, heart-pounding intensity. A surge of adrenaline shoots up my spine and detonates my focus.

Fragmented and paralyzed, I am suspended between all I know about birds and all I don’t know about owls. That beak is made for tearing flesh. Those toes are equipped with daggers. Is this bird strong enough to put up a fight? Am I her most immediate obstacle? Should I let her go? Everything seems to hit me at once.

"Let her go," Jake dances around my legs. He's frothing to solve my problem for me. "Now that you've caught her, I've got you covered."

Dogs are always stopping the action with force. Birds are yin. Females are yin. Darkness is yin. I hand over my puzzle to the Silence. "How am I going to lead the supernatural being in my arms and the hellion at my feet simultaneously?" I ask.

The moment takes on an endless quality. The Silence stretches through time, holds my heart, and catches my breath. I entangle myself with it and squeeze my mind into a space in the world that is humbler, sweeter, and smaller than a bird. I feel light and easy despite my inner turmoil. Now that I'm centered, I'm suddenly aware of all of the things that are not happening. Amidst the cacophony of mental and physical noise, my spirit begins to rise. I'm the best chance this bird has. Years of experience shoots through my skull. I filter out my best intentions and focus on what I'm doing right. I choose the best future and project it forwards taking my friends with me.

Inspired, I breathe into my body again. As the three of us pass beneath the trees and cross my yard, I reconcile things with Jake. "You've never met a bird like this, little buddy. Now let me see what I can do to help her." My adolescent wolf adores my softness so much he easily bends his will to mine and falls in quietly behind me. "Good boy." I assure him.

Then, I send our guest a dose of chi. She hides in my arms. Clearly, she is frightened, but she is not looking to make a getaway. Her tenderness buoys me up. I gently press her close to my chest to comfort and contain her. Time expands again. We relax.

As I take my owl into the house, I think of my own birds. Everything's a power struggle with them. Parrots in cages bite to gain dominance or to defend themselves. They are ever-mindful that they are prey animals and keenly aware that birds who can't hide their weaknesses may not survive. That's why taming them takes so long. Trust is earned. Understanding of what's true for them is offered in increments.

This barred owl, on the other hand, is a predator and a loner. What do owls know about social skills? I might get this bird to follow me if I find out. Inside a safe space, I become a steady perch and support my elbows on the floor. My owl presents her back to me. This simple gesture is beyond my ken. No parrot I know would be so brave. "Has this bird ever been afraid of anything? What must her life be like?" I marvel.

Her innocence feels very much like trust. I revel in it. I walk my talk and keep my face very close to her head while we sit together. We are intimate like old friends. It's easy to pretend whatever I want. Her back is to me.

I use her proximity to reinforce my bravery and to get down to business. I scan all the non-verbal signals she sending about how badly she is hurt. How does she hold her body? What condition are her feathers in? I look for the slightest indications. Does she feel threatened? Am I too close? Should I avoid looking directly into her eyes?

Judging by the grip she has on my wrist, she has a few questions for me too. Her talons dig in deeper. Her head begins turning my way. She's bracing herself for what she is about to see. She is turning around. She's turning around! We’re about to meet for the first time!

My heart pounds loudly in my ears. I have no idea what to expect. Since I'm the first human she's met, I wonder how this will go. How will she read my intentions? We have no time for translation. Will she take direction from me?

I sit within striking distance and close my eyes. How else can I show her where she stands? Now that I’m completely vulnerable, sitting in her presence this way internalizes my struggle. A new adrenaline rush ignites my heart. I've never felt so engulfed in flames without trying to escape. I use my mind to direct my chi back down into my dantien and turn my fear to smouldering embers. The sudden release of tension catapults me into a state of heightened awareness. I hold all of my diametrically opposed emotions in limbo and free the energy.

Ahhh! This is the moment I've waited for all my life. I feel a rush of unconditional love. Intensity and detachment strike a balance, the gates between us crumble. It's the most incredible feeling I've ever felt. We are one! I open my eyes and almost burst out laughing.

My owl’s reply is impeccable. Her soft response is unmistakable. Her eyes are closed too! We touch spirit to spirit. She slips inside my head with me. There are no barriers. The thrill is sublime. I feel electric! I share my beauty and vibrant strength with her. She takes it! She gives it! The energy moves between us. I've just mind-melded with a wild bird! My heart pounds through my chest as if I am empty, but I have never felt so full. Nothing could prepare me for the euphoria of it.

More than simultaneous surrender, I catch a glimpse of the infinite transcending even species. For a moment, I am a shaman crossing the valley of death meeting my totem animal--one pure spirit wearing two masks. Complexity melts into simplicity. Timelessness blankets us. I watch that single moment expand until all the moments of my life line up behind it making sense in a new way.

My wrist pulses with pain. I am acutely aware that asking my owl to shift her weight will end our love affair, but it’s necessary. The pressure of her razor sharp claws cuts my skin. I hold my breath and try to simply reposition her. Exerting even the slightest force brings out her wild nature. She lets me know my compassion may be weightless, but my willpower isn't. She takes her cue, leaps out of my hands, falls into the corner, flaps against the wall, and loses a few feathers. Heaven fades as Timelessness melts back into linear time.

I scrutinize her body and watch her wings work. She’s breathing well. No broken bones, no blood, bright eyes. I'm certain this owl hit a car while she was flying, not the other way around. Scooping her up again in my arms, I walk out into the moonlight. Somewhere between boldness and reckless abandon, I take a final liberty and kiss her wild, symbolic wings. I can feel the electricity in my fingertips. I can feel it in the wind moving my hair. I am much bigger now than I could ever be by myself. A deep sense of gratitude enfolds me for all the perfect synchronicity that has already occurred throughout time to allow this miracle this to happen.

She slips back into the darkness.

All summer long I listen to a barred owl in the woods behind my house. Low and sweet, she calls, reminding me how to surrender. I am listening with every nerve, every pore to a language I have always wanted to hear. What she taught me in a few moments, I will never forget.

Native Americans put feathers in their hair as a sign of their brave deeds. On special occasions, I wear the ones that owl gave me. They dangle from my ear on a tiny chain. They may look like feathers, but they feel like wings in my heart. Those feathers remind me how I can affect the world. In a moment of grace, I saw it for myself on many levels. What gift could be more precious? The one I give or the one I take? Now, I see, they are both are the same.

"A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses." ~ Chinese proverb