Thoughts After an Owl

Dare to encounter the divine.

  • I spent half an hour with a long-eared owl. The face is part human, part cat, part seal, and affixed to a head that twists 360 degrees.
    Photo by Getty Images/Taviphoto

Yesterday, wandering at dusk in the brown hills that rise from this condo-sprawl called Palm Springs, California, I spent half an hour with a long-eared owl. I tell you most sincerely that there are few creatures as stirringly strange and spookily awesome and mystically mystical as birds from the order Strigiformes. Very much the griffin of legend, these birds — that is if the griffin of legend upped its weirdness by a factor of, say, eleven.

Dinosaur feet. Shaggy sheep legs. A body of feathers and fur and leaves and twigs and shattered bits of light and shadow. Of course, the face is part human, part cat, part seal, and affixed to a head that twists 360 degrees. If that’s not enough, this vision, this being, this power, my how it launches into the air and glides silently on — no, can’t be possible — on 40 inches of wing!

I hate to make a bold statement (hyperbole, my nemesis) but it feels more and more that every single time I go outdoors I am buckling up for some kind of borderline hallucinatory experience. The natural world just does not fail to provoke in me awe, wonder, vibes of fear, tingles of trepidation, and a kind of meditative drift-state wherein all the senses knit all their sense-data together at once into a kind of synesthetic carpet, a magic rug upon which I sail off to who knows where. Did I tell you about the desert blister beetles I ran into recently, Lytta magister in nasty gooey sexed-up swarms? As Harvey, my old redneck neighbor from childhood would say, Sheeeit. To spend ten minutes with these beetles, damn, you better be buckled, maybe even helmeted.

A week ago, hiking solo in that very same parched, rugged, so-brown labyrinth of hills, that topographic maze flanking the commercial shitstrip of mega churches, payday loan pawnshops, car dealerships, windborne litter, bearded men masticated by a brutal economic system and subsequently regurgitated back onto the street with only junk-filled shopping carts to call home — hiking solo in them thar wacky hills, I couldn’t even put my hand down to touch things, like interesting rock-things or plant-things or stick-things.

The reason I couldn’t touch, say, a strange stick that drew my attention, and that a considerable part of me did badly want to touch, was that my hands, my flesh, my integument, was almost scared to do so. It was like these hands, which are so freakin’ sensitive, would just gather too, too, too much information, too, too, too much vital presence and place-specific truth. My feet were sheltered by leather, soled with rubber. My body needed that mediation. The hands, though, were and are naked, literally naked, naked nonstop.

It’s interesting, don’t you agree? We all recognize that if you show up at work buckass, birthday-suit nude you will feel very awkward, the entire experience intensified, altered. Pause here. Consider. That’s what your hands do every day! They live outside, with nothing to hide behind. Bushwhacking around last week, as mentioned, was very odd indeed: I was nervous to even lay a wee digit on this sweet dry earth.

8/3/2018 1:35:42 AM

this is really good article i have read it full of end.

6/22/2018 9:13:06 AM

Nothing like the desert to get those timeless visions rolling. There is an ancient history of that, for sure. Those biblical hermits were plugged in. Get a little hungry and/or overheated and watch out. Not that the desert isn't bizarre enough without adding to the cocktail. I grew up in LA and spent a fair amount of time in the Mojave. I miss it dearly. And now, in my late 50's, I seem to be able to slip into that mystical state even in my suburban Oregon neighborhood. It isn't the same, but I am happy to be surprised by a opossum bumbling across the alley, or squirrels playing tag with cats, not to mention my crow-friends that sometimes follow and croak at me for a piece of dog kibble. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I enjoyed your writing.

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