I was walking in the forest, on a dim afternoon, hunting for mushrooms. Ruckus and the poodle were with me--the poodle dashing joyously ahead, Ruckus engaged in top-secret cat stuff in the brush. Suddenly a barred owl sailed silently through the tree trunks. It was close enough to touch, though I did not touch it. The owl rose and then folded itself onto the limb of a tall birch tree beside the pond. And there it sat, for as long as I watched it, a vivid mothy shadow in the faded daylight, looking down on the three of us, considering us as dinner prospects, I suppose. I picked up Ruckus, who was the only one of edible size, and I looked up at the owl, which looked down on me--tamely, one might say, or indifferently.
In The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer writes of owl mythology. He not only records the common tale of the witch's familiar but notes that eating an owl's eyes is said to give a person the power to see in the dark. He also speaks of the owl's place in the traditions of "many tribes of South-eastern Australia," where "each woman believes that the lives of her mother, sisters, daughters, and so forth, equally with her own, are bound up with the lives of particular owls, and that in guarding the owl species she is guarding the lives of all her female relations besides her own."
But if anything, the owl I saw was guarding me. Or it was planning to eat my cat. The interaction was mysterious; it was both beautiful and ominous.
Well, I would like to make,
thinking some line still held taut between me and them,
poems direct as what the birds said,
hard as a floor, sound as a bench,
mysterious as the silence when the tailor
would pause with his needle in the air.
--from Denise Levertov, "Illustrious Ancestors"