Richard Davis: Encounter with an owl is a life-changing experience


A few weeks ago I was visited by a great horned owl. Because of the majesty of this creature, I felt as though there was some great significance to its appearance on top of an arbor in my yard. I was on my deck preparing to grill a meal when I thought I saw something unusual in the darkness, and as I fixed my gaze, it became clear that an owl was looking at me.

It was about 15-18 inches in height and sat atop the arbor as if it had been there for centuries. It was my first citing of such an owl and it was clear that this bird commanded a high level of respect. I stood silent in the darkness for a few minutes and the owl and I seemed to face off. As I started to make noise the owl was unfazed. At one point I wanted to get a better look so I shone a flashlight on the owl. It responded by turning its head 180 degrees away from the light. As it sat there I began to believe that there was a message in its visit.

There are many myths and legends that have been associated with owls and I latched on to one that associates owls with death. According to the Native Languages of America website, "In most Native American tribes, owls are a symbol of death. Hearing owls hooting is considered an unlucky omen, and they are the subject of numerous 'bogeyman' stories told to warn children to stay inside at night or not cry too much, otherwise the owl may carry them away. In some tribes, owls are associated with ghosts, and the bony circles around an owl's eyes are said to be made up of the fingernails of ghosts. Sometimes owls are said to carry messages from beyond the grave or deliver supernatural warnings to people who have broken tribal taboos. And in the Aztec and Mayan religions of Mexico, owls served as the messengers and companions of the gods of death."

I was convinced that this owl was telling me that I was going to die that night. It was not a fearful feeling. At first I questioned if I really felt that I was ready to die. The myth that I was creating for myself made me review my life and it pushed me to try to figure out if I had more work to do in this life or if I had wasted too many years being unproductive.

I came to the conclusion that the owl was going to end my life because I had wasted too much time not doing anything of value. This is where the personal inventory list came into play. Even if I did not die that night, I was at least alerted to the possibility that perhaps I needed to undergo a personal accounting and make some decisions about the direction of my life.

It is hard to explain how spiritually intense this encounter with the owl was but I believe that we have messages delivered to us during our lives and we have to be ready to receive them and to act upon those messages so that our lives can have more value for ourselves and others. I suspect most people would tell me that I have an overactive imagination and that this visit from an owl was simply a visit from an owl. But the intensity of that encounter has not left me and I am still trying to understand if I understood the message.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.



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