Listening for the Solitary Owl

I’ve been staying at a house on a river—complete privacy surrounded by so many different kinds of trees. There’s a Barred Owl who calls out every night, and even though the temperature keeps dropping after dark, I leave the bedroom window wide open to hear her as I drift off. A friend came up for dinner one early evening: the owl swooped low over her car, and made intense eye contact. We agreed her dark, dark eyes are something to be taken seriously.

Each morning and then each night I walk down the driveway that feels more a forested path than a thing for cars—thick with maidenhair ferns and dense overstory. I head to the river. On one of the first nights I sat by the water, swallows and bats came out at dusk, navigating the air and each other, feasting on insects, feasting on fading light.

These late spring mornings and evenings, I am at my most alive…or at least my most viscerally human. I feel sick and free and hopeful and sad and sorry and scarred and scared. I am leaving a love and it is a rending. Last week my Buddhist psychotherapist described rending in the Jewish tradition of Kriah: the ripping apart of garments to represent the tear in your heart when losing someone, how the ripped clothes are an outward expression to show you are grieving. The grief comes in waves and makes me think of death a lot. Roland Barthes described la petite mort as the feeling one should get when experiencing great literature. My understanding of la petite mort has been more as synonymous with orgasm, or any transcendent or temporary state of unconsciousness. I’ve been taking it more literally lately—these little deaths we all experience—how maybe they’re readying us for the last one. My therapist said that it’s part of the Buddhist path that every beautiful thing we experience will end. I told her that is fucking brutal and she said that’s the dharma.

The end of life, or the end of a love, is a painful reminder that it’s all so temporary. I am quietly terrified of more loss, of all the losses yet to come. But I also know we humans would be even more insufferable if we thought we could escape this pain of living, or if we thought we were going to have what and who we love forever, or even for some who are trying, that we could live forever. How silly. This fleeting beingness is crammed full of heart openings and heart breaks and everything in between. When my grandma died six years ago I did not want to keep living here on Earth: I felt very ready to leave with her. Even now the world is just not as special and compelling without her in it, but a great teacher told me not long after she died that it was of the utmost importance that for now, I stay here in this body, and I can feel that she is right.

The beautiful trees here look down on me with some compassion—just a little human living a little life—but they are mostly very busy unfurling new leaves and bowing with the wind. They are bearing witness and letting me know, in the easy way they have, that I’m not all that significant. It is relief to be reminded.

The sun is starting to set, so it is time to go listen to the nightbirds, the frogs, the thrushes. There’s a mouse who visits who I think I am starting to fall in love with. She watches me with clear eyes from the tree line and edges closer, not afraid of the owl…or maybe afraid but willing to risk the exposure of her small body anyways. Everyone is just so painfully alive. I’m going to walk down now to see if the swallows and the bats are back. It’s also time to keep my ear out for Owl. She seems to be alone, even though it is spring and the time for coupling and nests. Maybe she’s been telling me all these nights that it’s okay to be alone in the dark. Her call echoes off the trees and these thick, low clouds. My shoulders are aching and my stomach churns, but I’m going to keep listening for her, even knowing that soon I will have to grieve the loss of my time with her as well—all too soon.

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