Monday, March 4, 2013

I have night's cloak

In drawing a "neighborhood map" of our life experiences with my students, I sketched the night I saw a Great Horned Owl.

The evening darkness in the Pennsylvania countryside can be so simultaneously heavy and illuminating that it can hide the twitch of life while still revealing the canvas of the landscape for miles.

When I left my house, I stepped into some of the darkest folds of blue found only past midnight in deep coves and downriver. On the lid of sable summer sleep, Pennsylvania blue of evening saturates the grass beneath the navy silhouette of hemlock--and then it rises like silky mist.

And on a clear Pennsylvania summer night, the stars bob and crack like ice dropped in a warm blue sea.

My pickup truck was downhill, as my driveway slopes away from my house towards the road. Anything towards that end of the drive is lost in the murky shadows of overhanging branches and pine needles which I felt before I saw them. Startling me, they scraped just above my eye and I stumbled to swerve away from them--catching the sharp glint of moon reflect against the windshield. Steadying myself against the truck to stand, the reflection of the sharp white moon behind me was gone.

When I opened the door and started the truck, the cab light bled yellow and interrupted the night. After closing the door and the light dimmed, the night seeped back into my truck, the yellow dissipating and weak. And behind the night, behind the dark blue, shapes familiar to me resurfaced.

I pulled on the headlights. Two long deliberate cables of white light tethered themselves to the road fifty yards downhill from me.

And then I saw it in the fringe of my light.

The distinctive fluid turn of the head caught my attention--it was an owl. On my my mailbox at the bottom of the driveway. It fell forward from and eased it wings wide like a horizon.

Parellel to the ground which rises in a slight slope to my house, it glided. Through the beams of light, through the faint wake of light, and into night's cloak, it glided.

Weightless, its wings never budged and it did not hurry. It glided. I watched it ease by me; I turned my head and squeezed my eyes to focus better as the night absorbed its perfection.

 Night's cloak swallowed it, and left me the memory of its silence which stunned me.

The presence of its silence made me dumb and deaf. I sketch and write about that owl, that moment, over and over...and then I put it away awhile.

And I look at my mailbox in the daylight. And enjoy the memory.

Or I write.

And then I put it away awhile.


  1. What a beautiful description of your encounter with the Great Horned Owl. Was moved by "it can hide the twitch of life while still revealing the canvas of landscape..." and "silky mist" just to name a few.

  2. Of course, this makes me think of Jane Yolen's OWL MOON but with an adult perspective and response. Awesome.

  3. A lone encounter with a Great Horned Owl is one of Life's most precious and majestic moments. It abides with you forever. It is winged perfection. I loved the beauty of your description, both of Pennsylvania nights and of the Owl itself. "...and squeezed my eyes to focus better as the night absorbed its perfection." What a line! Thank you. I will now take out my memories of this creature and enjoy them awhile before again putting them away.

  4. There is definitely something quite fantastical when you meet up with an owl at night. I've only seen 2 in my over 60 years. Your post reads like a book that boys would love to read--"two deliberate long cables of white light tethered themselves to the road..." and "I sketch and write about that owl..." Beautiful, just beautiful.

  5. Your writing is amazing. How I yearn to write with such passion. "Night's cloak swallowed it." I love that picture you've given me.