Among Guardians and Messengers


Meandering the cemetery along a Sunday walk, I pass clusters of deer lounging under scrub oaks and pines. Tucked between disheveled gravestones, the deer nestle close together for warm. Squirrels scamper along the edge of the road then bound up trees to scold me as I pass. I take note of the morning haze giving way to a clear blue sky as I continue along my path.

In a clearing at the northwest corner is a single elm tree surrounded by snow. Her rugged bark is embellished with lichen. Patches of rust and green traverse her majestic trunk. Barren winter limbs expose brittle skeleton fingers, bulging with knotted joints. I pause and consider all that this ancient tree has witnessed— standing as a guardian of the living and the dead. Then, I notice a hollow in the top third of her trunk, formed where a branch must have broke. Something round and gray is resting in the hole. From a distance, it looks like a pigeon or a dove but this wouldn't be their usual perch. So, I tromp through the crunchy foot of snow, high-stepping twenty paces towards the base of the elm. Hoping I don't disturb whatever is perched, curious for a closer look. I peer up and see a medium sized owl, a Western-Screech resting in the quiet nook. Eyes closed, tufted ears perked, her feathered coat perfectly mottled to blend in. She doesn't move but remains mindfully still, as if aware and unaware all at once.

I stand and look up for a long while before capturing a few sacred images through my lens. I remember last winter when I made a wish— a silent prayer for Owl to come. I didn't know exactly what I was wanting from Owl, but over the year I searched until I finally gave up. Perhaps I didn't need her after all or perhaps I didn't know how to look.

Now here, a year later in that single elm, I happen upon Owl without expectation. In the silence, her invitation is familiar and clear: Be still and listen. What seems hidden, isn't. Turn inward and trust your intuitive wisdom. Walking away, the message feels powerfully obvious. I didn't need to search for Owl. She has always been present.