I Heard the Owl Call My Name

December 1, 2004

I had a restless night last Thursday, after all the Thanksgiving festivities were over. I woke several times, and finally got up about 4:15 Friday morning. I came down to the kitchen, lighted a candle, and sat for a while at the table which faces our back yard. Presently I heard a sound I couldn’t quite identify, a low hum in recurring sets of three. I thought it was something mechanical, possibly a new rattle in the neighbors’ aging heating unit. Finally I got up and opened the sliding door.

I used to do this when I was a child. After my grandmother died I had the back bedroom to myself. There was an unheated enclosed porch that looked out over rooftops to the river, and sometimes I would go out there and open the big swinging windows. I called it “letting in the sounds of the night,” and it made me feel adventurous.

When I opened the door last Friday morning I heard the whoosh from the highway a mile and a half away. The neighbors’ heating unit was indeed wheezing, but that was not what I’d heard. It was cold, and I was about to close the door when I heard not a hum but a low whoo, whoo, whoo.

In the twenty-eight years I’ve lived in this house I have never before heard an owl. Deer have visited, and pheasant, the occasional black bear, and from time to time an egret attracted by our pond. But never an owl. I took it as a sign.

But I had to discover what it might be a sign of. There’s the novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name. It was Margaret Craven’s first book, published in 1970 when she was 69. It tells the story of a young Anglican vicar who ministers among the Kwakiutl people of northwestern British Columbia as he is dying of cancer. To hear the owl call your name is to have your death foretold. Loren Cruden, a woman who studies Native American culture for its healing practices, puts a different spin on owl symbolism. She takes the appearance of an owl as a call to die to the past and take on something new.

The something new for me is writing here again. As you can see by the banner title, I’ve already put 2004 aside, and am moving into the new year. It’s Advent, a time of watchful waiting and the increase of hope. My soul is ajar, awaiting the ecstatic.

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