A faint sound rouses me from sleep, and I listen within the quiet house for its source. In the wee hours of the morning, the cats sleep on the sofa, curled up side-by-side. My husband, beside me, does not stir.
Like peeling off a sticky spiderweb, I pull myself out of sleep, trying to remember what I just heard. Perhaps I dreamed it, though with enough clarity to awaken me. Then, it sounds again.
Hoo, hoo, hoo.
Fully awake, I surmise the owl’s location: one of the giant pine trees behind our house, preserved from the original forest when our neighborhood was developed about a dozen years ago. Towering pines with massive drooping branches stand along a strip of land known as a conservation area.
Black-tailed deer make their way through these narrow woodland byways, from the top of the foothill to the marshy area far below. Our neighbors’ outside camera caught a black bear sniffing around their patio last June. And I’m told by other neighbors that there have been cougar sightings on the far reaches of the hiking trails on the ridge above us. Such is the wildlife in Oregon, where we have lived for nearly two years now.
But other than the deer, I have seen none of these wilder creatures. I content myself with the hummingbirds and the wrens at the feeder.
Then I hear the hooting again. And, in the middle of one night, the screech of an owl jolts me out of sleep.
According to nature websites, it’s common for birds to sing and chirp at night, often to look for mates. Or they might send out alarms, alerting both flock and forest of looming danger. Perhaps these night-singing birds are not all that different from us and our own midnight communications. Where are you? Are you nearby? It’s not safe out. Come home soon…
The nocturnal owl, I suspect, raises its voice for different reasons. They rule the nighttime from the treetops. Territorial, they put out the call: This is my turf. Stay away. The plaintive hooting, though, always sounds a little lovesick to me.
A few more web search clicks take me down the metaphysical path, to meanings surmised and derived over centuries—owls as omens and harbingers. Protection, warning, alertness, wisdom—all these meanings and more. Reading that list, I’d take any of them to move through this world more alert, more protected, and wiser for the experience.
“You can call to them, you know,” my cousin Melanie tells me during our phone call.
A former forest ranger, she has a deep affinity for nature: the deer that venture out of the woods to stand in her backyard, the owls that answer when she imitates them.
“Try it,” she encourages me. But the next time I hear an owl in the middle of the night, I stay in my snug bed and just listen until it lulls me back to sleep.
And yet, the sound stirs something deep within me, like a connection that I’ve nearly forgotten. Then I remember that as a young girl I used to doodle owls constantly—mostly because they were easy to draw: oval body, round head, big eyes, and downward curving lines for folded wings.
A year or so ago, my sister, Jeannie, and brother-in-law, Ben, gave me a gorgeous piece of macrame wall art of an owl. “You always loved them,” Jeannie reminded me.
Perhaps that is the message meant for me when I hear owls hooting outside my window. Come back to what you loved as a child. Remember what you wanted to be.
Well, that one is easy. A writer, of course.
No matter how busy my daily life becomes—the responsibilities, worries and to-dos—I must keep nurturing the dream that rooted within me when I was seven years old. It’s in my DNA, as undeniable as my brown eyes and curly hair.
Very early on a December morning, while even the cats stay asleep, I sit down at my desk and begin writing. Through my office window, I hear a sound that stirs me out of the words on the screen. I listen, but the hum of the computer makes me doubt my senses.
Opening the front door just a crack, I hear the soft rustle of a breeze through the pine trees. Then, on that breath of wind an hour before dawn, I hear it distinctly: Who, who, who?
I answer this time in my own way: “Who? Why, it’s me of course.” And I go back to my writing.
Illustration: My first owl doodle in about 50 years …