It was 4:30 A.M. The stars were bright overhead, wearing their winter constellations, with Orion high to the south. A quarter moon burned to the east, like fire and ice all at once. My feet were wet with dew, and the hard, roughcast concrete chilled me where I sat, gazing up at the sky. For a few minutes, the last of the autumn crickets were all I could hear: no cars, no wind, no human noises at all.
Then, off in the blackened woods to my north and east came the territorial call of a Barred Owl, far clearer and louder than it had been indoors.
Silence. More silence, and then the call again.
|Barred Owl, Wing-Chi Poon|
I lingered for quite a while, listening hard, but, though I heard the calls of the more distant of the owls, the nearer, freakishly alien-sounding voice of the closer owl did not call again. So I went back into my house, went to sleep, and dreamed.
I dreamed I was a widow, the most terrible of all dreams to me. Though the aches and pains that had awakened me were with me still, the crushing pain of grief was much, much greater.
Why do owls call out in the autumn? Their season of mating is over, the owlets have grown up and flown away... and in the small hours of the night, there are no daytime birds to mob them. Are they responding to the coming winter, the season of death, and calling out for it? Or are they calling out to one another still, pair of owls protecting their territory, making their presence known to ward off invaders who would threaten that pair and their life together?
Autumn and winter are the season of the owl, at least at night, and when I cannot sleep. And I am middle-aged, with the aches and pains of my oncoming menopause to keep me awake at night. I cannot hide from my mortality, and I cannot hide from my fears, because the Season of the Owl is coming, and my voice may not be enough, when I call out in the night, to protect what I love most, and keep it with me, warm and safe in the time of cold.
The stars are lovely overhead. And if the owls are harbingers of death, they are also measures of the overwhelming nature of love.