Giant wings blocked the fading remnants of day outside the window, before collapsing somewhere above, close to the nest of baby swallows clinging to the eave over the back door. Dusk masked superfluous details, so the feather color eluded me, but I was sure the bird was a hawk.
I hustled outside to discourage her from probing the nest, but she was perched higher on the roof, gazing toward the ridge hiding the sleeping sun. Her head turned on a swivel and her wide eyes held me, then pierced me, before she took flight.
Awhile back, a beloved horse died next to the river, in the middle of a lesson at the therapeutic riding ranch featured in the For The Sender books. The horse gave the instructor enough warning to pull the young rider from his back, before falling to his knees and taking his last breath, just as an owl swooped in slow-motion past his body.
The wings carried enough intention to cause pause and tears.
Many traditions, including the Celts, believe the owl is a spirit animal that carries the souls of the departed to another world. But owls are also seen as bad omens across parts of Africa, the Middle East and among some Native American tribes. They’re figures of wisdom in most European and North American cultures, symbols of deep intuition and connection.
Social psychologists tell us that what we see often comes down to what we want to believe. ‘Confirmation bias’ is the term they’ve come up with to define our tendency to interpret the world around us according to our beliefs, which can cause misread intents and unintended consequences.
Was this owl perched above us on the roof a harbinger of death? A bad omen? A reminder to trust intuition?
I don’t know. I didn’t even think she was an owl at first, and sometimes I wonder about the value in assigning meaning to every single thing that happens. I’m trying to avoid confirmation bias, I guess, and see things more as they are, and less as I want them to be.
But was that therapy horse’s spirit taken by an owl and gracefully transported somewhere better, with gratitude for his selfless service to those disabled and disadvantaged riders he helped find joy and purpose?
The instructor that knelt next to his dying body will tell you that is exactly what happened.
And I believe her.