At 8pm, two hours into teaching a once a week, four hour class at Portland Community College, all I could think about was being outside, wandering under the full moon, with snowy owls.
“Thinking about” isn’t really the right way to put it, so much as it felt to me like I already was doing it. Like the time between my physical presence in the classroom, and that in the moonlight with snowy owls, was nothing at all. I shook off the sensation, a kind of gravity pulling me strongly out of the present. Or at least, into another presence. I still had class to teach, with an hour or two to go. But there flies the owl, swooping silently overhead, just under the fluorescent lights of the classroom then out the window into the moonlight. I had to get out of here. I shook my head with doubt; still, the Snowy Owls called.
I got home from teaching at 10pm. Including prep time, I’d been working for 12 hours. I felt hungry, and a little wired, but driving 3.5 hours North to the Snowy Owls in Ocean Shores, Washington, felt doable. I had nothing on my schedule the following day until 6pm- that left me a lot of hours to make the trip and enjoy, and still come back for some sleep. But a voice in my head complained, “Ahhh, it’s too late! Go to bed and leave early in the morning” or, “I’m tired and hungry. Just eat a snack and go to bed. Schedule another time to go see the owls.”
These little thoughts were just that – little. The amount of momentum available for the trip felt much greater than the supposed “obstacles” that the little voice offered.
I called my partner to share the news. “Just want you to know, I’m heading out on an adventure.”
“What kind?” she asked. She’d already been half asleep.
“I’m going to see the owls, the snowies, up at Ocean Shores.”
A pause lengthened.
“What? You’re going out with who?”
She didn’t believe it either. She had not heard what I’d said, since what I said struck her, as it would strike many, as an insane idea – to head out on a 7 hour road trip at 10pm at night, with less than 20 hours available to make the trip.
I smiled. I understood her response – I’d had a similar one myself.
“I’m going to see the snowy owls. It’s a full moon, and I want to be out at night with them. If I leave now, I’ll get there by 3am – and then I can stay until the sun rises, and still get back early enough to sleep a bit.”
“Are you sure?” She asked.
“Yes.” This ‘yes’ felt so wonderful – so solid – so clear and unambiguous. “I thought about going in the morning, but when I think about that, it seems all wrong. I need to be there tonight.”
Need. A strange word, yet, true.
Time and space. I moved through it, though I cannot say exactly what it was like. It was like any one moment: like now. Like sitting and typing this story. Like eating a meal. It existed, and it moved, and was gone, and came again. I felt sleepy, and at times worried about that. But then it was three o’clock, and I was in Aberdeen, Washington, trailing a set of taillights from a car filled to the brim with someone’s belongings, dressers and mattresses. They were moving – but where from, and to, and why at 3 in the morning? I wished them well.
In Aberdeen I caught my first glimpse of Gray’s Harbor, and out across Gray’s Harbor, across the bay, there was Damon point. I couldn’t see it in the dark, but I sensed it. I felt it, right in the muscle of my heart, in the energy of every beat. There’s something so resonant about being exactly in the right place in the right moment following a passionate call.
That was when red and blue lights flashed in my rear view mirrors, all of them. An officer halted my progress, but I was not surprised to be pulled over at 3:30a.m. in a sleepy industrial town. I almost felt suspicious of myself.
“Just out for a drive?” The officer asked.
I laughed. Do people do that? Just go out for a pointless drive at 3:30am? “No, I’m going to see the snowy owls at Ocean shores.” I said, as if that provided a more plausible reason for driving at 3am. “It’s a full moon tonight, and I like to take photos. I’m hoping to get out there before the sunrise, and maybe take some pictures in the moonlight, if all goes well.”
The officer brightened. “Yeah, I’ve heard of them! I saw a giant owl up on the ridge but it wasn’t a snowy. Not sure what it was, but I’ve been meaning to go see the snowy owls out there.”
“Oh yeah, it’s amazing,” I said. “I’ve been up once before. It’s a lifetime dream of mine to see snowy owls in the wild.”
I say dream, and realize the tender truth of it. Dream, not in the sense of achievement once it happens. But, instead, an on-going experience of magic, possibility, and transformation.
“Well, you just slow down a bit and be careful going through the curves,” the officer says, handing back my license.
“Thanks officer. I didn’t realize I was going that fast. I’ll definitely be careful.”
This marked the first occasion I’d been pulled over in Washington State and not been cited with an expensive ticket; I felt the shock of it wash over me. As the officer walked away, something happened. An invisible barrier lifted, or, more like a curtain settled down behind me, but not in front of me. It settled in, and every possible block I’d ever imagined to this experience disappeared. There was nothing between me and the moments ahead any longer, just the experience, eager to occur. I felt a rich happiness as I drove away slowly. The officer turned his rig around in a sharp “J” behind me, solidifying that I was alone on the journey. Alone, and welcome to the way forward. I felt that so intensely. Welcome.
The moon shone so bright at the gates to Ocean Shore that I didn't need a headlamp or any other light to pack my bags with water, camera gear, food. Every part of me hummed with expectation.
The clear sky radiated the full moon, a full moon night, the February moon, the last Winter moon before the equinox. As I prepared to leave, one last thought attempted to derail me: “It’s stupid to be a woman alone going out at 4 a.m. to look at owls.”
The thought itself arose out of social training: years of hearing about women attacked by “strange men” in “remote places.” I slammed the door to my truck and shook my head. The more likely scenario for most women would be that a man they knew (boyfriend, date, father) would attack them. The fear wasn’t mine, but others’. The momentum that carried me forward drew with it the power of the waves, of the sea, of the moon, of every soul I’d known, of every love, every tenderness, every courage. In the face of that power, fear evaporated into nothing. No resistance. And likewise, no, none, zero danger.
I closed up the car and left a wish for it to be there when I returned. The moon provided plenty of light, illuminating features of the landscape like short hummocks of grass and dunes of sand, and tiny potholes in the road. I walked towards Damon Point within more light than I knew that darkness could provide.
I walked past the RV park, where a half dozen RV’s stood quiet, their inhabitants resting. Even the dogs ignored my passing. In the daylight, dogs from those campgrounds have hounded and howled at my, or any other human’s, passing. But not tonight. I am not alarmed to be here – and nothing I passed was alarmed by my presence.
The tide moved on its way out, and as I laid my feet on the pebbly shore, the waves were small, quiet, receding. I’d never considered breakers quiet before, but these were. Short rollers of white, coming onto the shore, reaching only a few feet up the steep slope before resting and then withdrawing. I walked at the peak, the in-between place, of water and dry, in the place where a road had once been. Locals remember when the road extended all the way to the edge of Damon point, made a circle, and came back. In the past 5 years, the ocean had carried the road away. Where the road had once been, now a quarter-mile section of drift logs, fine mud sands, and pebbles strewn about in a gentle curve. The ocean breakers on the West side of the point had been eating away at the more subtle slope of the opposite, Bay side of the peninsula. In a big storm, or on some day when the tides rise especially high, this access point disappeared under breakers and ocean tumult. One day not far in the future, myself and others may come to call the place Damon Island.
Thinking about this as I walked along, I felt a bit like I was getting away with something – getting a pass, a pass onto a changing world that may one day be closed to me. Getting a glimpse of what the next generation might not be able to see or do. But now, the way was open, and I went.
I kept my eyes out for anything bright white: the owls. Or, it could just be a large piece of Styrofoam. In the moonlight, it would not be hard to see white, but definitely hard to tell exactly what the white shape constituted. I walked with eyes and heart open. The Snowy Owls broadcast a clear quality that my heart knows, recognizes first before my eyes catch up. Like enhydro bubbles in Himalayan quartz. I can pick up a piece of Himalayan quartz, move it around, and know, before I ‘see' with my eyes, whether the stone has a bubble in it. Some crystals are created in such a way that they cool around open spaces within which water vapor or other elements become trapped. They are called enhydros when a small water bubble remains trapped within a crystal. Most commonly, people use their eyes to look for enhydros. My body had taught me a different strategy, though I'd resisted the idea that I could possibly find enhydros the way it seemed I could. After sorting through hundreds of Tibetan quartz crystals, it seemed to me that enhydro crystals made a certain sound, sort of, if I can call it that. While I held the crystals in front of my eyes, I'd move the stone around, and there’d be a characteristic kind of “click” that I would feel/hear/sense. At first, I ignored the "sound" - how could that be possible? It seemed ridiculous. Having studied geology in college (a minor, not a major) I definitely never heard of people "listening" to movement within crystals. How could I possibly “hear” or “feel” the shifting of a micro bit of water embedded in a crystal? Still, during the months I spent sorting through a bulk amount of Tibetan quartz, time and again I found enhydros by sensing them rather than seeing them. My eyes told me no, but I could hear/feel a movement, so I'd keep looking, and sure enough, eventually would find the crystal had an enhydro. Time and again, the pattern repeated itself. No enhydro upon visual inspection, but a sense that there was one I could hear and feel - then, eventually, I'd find it with my eyes. I started to accept it the possibility that I could actually hear or feel wanter moving in crystal. Eventually, I found a stone that I felt had an enhydro in it. The stone had the “sound,” but I couldn’t find any bubble in it, no matter how I held it in the light or moved it around and looked at it with my eyes. I looked again and again at this particular crystal, for short periods of time, over months, with no results except “the sound.” I kept the crystal on my desk as a sort of “proof” that maybe I don’t sense things like I think I do, and that correlation is not causation. And then, a year and a half later, I picked up the stone again. Again, I “heard” a movement, and felt it. I looked through it. I stood and held it in the light, twisting it slightly here and there, noticing, for the first time, a certain layer within the stone. And then I saw it: a bubble that shifted within one end of the crystal. Holy crap! The crystal that I thought was proof I couldn't hear water in crystals, turned out to be a strong piece of evidence to the contrary. Now I keep the stone as a reminder that sometimes my senses do work better than I can imagine, and that most of the time, I can trust what my body and senses tell me. That night, walking along Damon Point, I listened, with all of my being, for Snowy Owls.
Even given the season, it was exceptionally cold. Sand, normally squishy and smooth, crunched like icy gravel with each step I took. The moon shone golden, so bright I had to remind myself it wasn’t the sun setting towards the west. The reflected moon on the water created a solemn undulation, the waves lazily coming to shore, barely bothering to build into white foam before crashing into the already beat up gravel and sand.
I’d walked this beach twice before in daylight – the mental maps I’d created on those visits didn’t match the moonlit landscape. Sure, water still stretched out to the right, the west, and also, along the end of the point towards the south. Sure, I knew that if I walked east, I would cross a great “bowl” of grass, drift wood and inlets. These core features remained under the moonlight. All else took on new shape, form, and even meaning. I felt surrounded by new sounds, and listened keenly.
When all the sound and the awe of the moonlight and the crash of the waves and the bitter wind built beyond some benchmark in my senses that I didn’t know existed, I simply sat down and leaned my back against a drift-log the size of a Chevy minivan. It blocked the wind, supported me and had my back. I rested. I breathed in and out. I sniffled. I buried my face in the collar of my coat. I licked my lips, found them cold and dry. Wish I’d brought lip balm. What time was it, anyway? I looked at my watch– 4:45a.m.
I shrugged off my backpack and took out the camera, trained the lens on the moon and the water and the shadows cast in the darkness, snapped photos that captured haunting golds and grays. I smiled. Who knew what I was taking pictures of? I took the photos, but couldn’t tell what they’d become, even with the instant digital preview window. The photos mirrored a feeling. A sense. I looked across the drift logs to my east and north. On the wind, at times, I thought I heard them, the particular screech of a snowy. Ornithologists say they don’t “vocalize” when they migrate, and when they’re young. That’s what they say.
The tips of my fingers grew cold. My chest and torso rattled and shivered for a moment. I put the camera away and began walking. I felt the call of the sunrise, and wanted to greet it on the eastern most shore of Damon Point. I headed inland until I gained the remnants of the road – the one that used to connect to the main road in Ocean Shores, before the ocean took it away, and made the Point accessible by foot and bicycle wheels only. The faintest sliver of dawn began to grow and gather around the edges of all shapes and forms. Ever more daylight rose, gathering brightness until I could see further ahead and afield. I saw tops of trees and specific bushes, more than just masses of things and shapes. Something about the rising light raised my pulse, and I walked faster towards the Eastern shore.
When I got there, the Eastern horizon shone tangerine. Mt. Rainier blocked the rising sun, casting a giant triangle of grey across the landscape, all the way from the horizon to where I stood. Tears fell from my eyes, as much from the cold wind, as from the warmth of what I witnessed, there on the shore of the bay. The sun painted the sky incredible colors, and along with the colors, actual brush of warmth on my cheeks. Meanwhile, Rainier, the great mountain, kept the western shore of Gray's Harbor with its paper mill, and nuclear power plant, in shadow.
After soaking in the first rays of early dawn, I turned around, so the sun was at my back. I watched the last of the moon set over the western horizon. In 38 years of living, I’d never been in such a place – watching the moon set on one hand, and the sun rise on the other, a smile in my being in response to the wholeness of Sun, Earth and Moon. I felt a deep wonder at the mystery of such an alignment, one that occurs most every day, yet I had never seen.
After catching my breath from the stunning first glimpse of dawn, I began a slow walk along the shore, just for the sake of movement. The light became so bright, it felt like full daylight to me. I took the camera out, but it didn’t seem to work. It kept refusing to focus, and refusing to take a picture, so I gave up on it. I chalked it up to divine intervention, the cold weather, or some other reason to keep my gaze away from behind the camera lens.
I continued walking, then, as I raised my gaze to look into the distance, I saw a Snowy Owl, perched on the highest, tiniest little branch of a leaf-barren tree. The owl’s eyes barely registered my presence. He, or she, sat still, facing east. Facing the sunrise, just as I had. I sat down and offered welcome, and offered my intentions, and asked the question of safe passage, with no intention of disturbance. The owl had nothing to say. Much as I expected. We hung out a while, as strangers do, and then I made my way down towards the water, the low tide allowing for a big distance for me to travel away from and around the owl. I felt afraid of disturbing its peace. After I passed it, I turned to watch it again, and again it clearly stared out over the water towards the rising sun. The owl greeted the sunrise, as only a night predator would know how, and as I wanted to learn. I sat down far away from the owl, and watched the tangerine light of the sun turn into blood orange, then golden, and for a moment, a kind of green, before finally settling into a brightness that lit up the world.
The snowy owl kept gazing out at the sea. I felt released from sharing its gaze, and I felt called to cross the island again, and head to the western shore. Cold and slightly tired, I watched my steps, every now and then looking up and around to be sure I didn’t wander into a snowy owl and set it off its perch. It’s not easy to walk across the landscape on Damon Point. The ground is covered with every shape and size of once-water-borne flotsam and jetsam. There’s refrigerators and logs, plastic fishing webbing and Styrofoam. Not ten feet of it high and deep, but enough to make walking a conscious activity, especially in the grey-light of dawn. After one near-trip, I planted my feet and took in a deep breath.
And then, there they were. Four Snowy Owls, One perched on a stump. One perched on a grey colored, 30-foot long log. One perched on a brownish log parallel to the grey one. And one in a rag tag bunch of stumps and log ends, closest to me at about 400 feet. They all faced me. Or, rather, they all faced the sunrise.
I sat down. What else to do? A part of me wanted to run, but that seemed pointless. Run from what? Why did I feel afraid? I felt afraid that I was in the wrong spot. Afraid that I didn’t have a place here. Afraid that my presence would “mess” something up, would disturb an owl who would then waste energy and spontaneously fall over dead. And then, it seemed ridiculous. These owls, who had traveled so far, and who now sat together, perched, watching the sunrise behind me. It suddenly seemed ridiculous to have an “I’m not worthy moment,” not when this moment was exactly what I had come for, and here it was. Just then, an owl flew from behind me into the "bowl" with the other owls, coming from the direction I had just walked. It alighted on the grey log, about 15 feet from another owl. I took a deep breath and crossed my legs. Then, another snowy owl alighted into the bowl from the South. Owl roll call! Six snowy owls sharing space, and me, learning how. They were greeting the sunrise. Gathering, coming together to greet the sun. And two more came. As each one came, they all faced the sun. And faced me, between the owls and the sun.
The space began to feel crowded. My head grew crowded too. Surely something amazing was happening, and I was in the way. How would I get out of here without disturbing them? Especially if more came, and landed closer to me? What should I do? I sat with nearly a dozen owls, a handful of whom had flown right over me to land just a few hundred feet from where I sat. Should I be this close? I’d gotten this close on accident, and none of the owls had alighted away from me, instead, it seemed they had chosen to come join the crowd. But, still, there had to be something wrong. Finally, unable to silence the voices, I began to slowly crawl away from the owls. I headed south, towards the end of the point, and even as I did so, I felt the eyes of the owls on my back. I felt them all, gathering, to greet the sun. I felt my heart longing to join them.
And just then, as I looked ahead towards the path I chose seemingly to get away from disturbing the convening of snowy owls at sunrise, I saw two owls directly in front of me, about 500 feet away. One sat perched on a stump about 5 feet off the ground, almost level with my head. And the other, a fair distance behind the first, was airborne, flying directly towards that owl and, in essence, directly towards me.
I froze all movement. I was surrounded. Any direction I chose, I found owls. And now, they were coming towards me. As the second owl flew closer to the first, the first took flight as well. And as they both flew towards me, I watched them with my whole being. There wasn't room to resist what was happening. No more space to feel fear of disturbing these incredible beings, who chose to fly towards me, towards the gathering of snowy owls at dawn. Suddenly, the two owls flying towards me crossed into the rising, blindingly bright sun. As I watched them enter the light, the brightness erased everything and equated and conflated everything. The owls became the light of the sunrise, and I joined them in that space, heart, spirit, a convening of harmony. I felt all senses in my being change. The moment lasted beyond time and space, an entry into another world of expansive presence, peace, bright vitality. The experience cracked me open into a whole new being, under the sun, with the owls flying towards where I stood, toward the crowd of owls gathering to greet the day. I lived a whole life in that blink of snowy owls in sunrise.
And then the two owls came out of the sun. One flew past me about 50 feet to my left, while the other kept flying directly towards me. The owl made no noise as it flew, its deep, long wings scooping at the air, once, twice, until its face was less than 20 feet from mine, its golden eyes looking at me, and through me, and behind me. I watched the long, thin feathers near its black claws move like the tips of grass swaying in a gentle breeze. I saw individual tail feathers adjust to the left and right with each wingbeat. I had enough mental space to ponder if the owl might sink either its talons or its beak into some part of me, and I didn't care. I felt no fear. A few more wingbeats, and the owl flew past me, less than an arm's span away. I felt the wind generated by its wings. I turned to watch it as it passed. It alighted, with the large group of owls, already gathered, and if I hadn’t heard the welcome offered to me before by the gathering of owls, I certainly felt it now, like a bolt of lightning through my being.
And I knew, then, that any fear I had of being unwelcome, of “upsetting” the beings that I sought to connect with, had no place here. The reality available in the moment involved snowy owls, the sunrise, the ocean lapping against the point, and me, as participant, witness, and student contributor. I sat down again, this time even more deeply and consciously with the Snowy Owls. We all watched the sunrise. Held court on the coming day. Checked in with each other, and joined in ceremony I didn’t realize we could all co-create.
I sat for a time that felt immemorial. Spirit measured no time, and I stayed there, in no time, with the guardians of the night, and the welcomers of the dawn. I had shared with them a whole night of darkness. Shared with them a moment of transition, of the last of the moon setting on the western horizon, of the first bright sun glowing warmth on feather and fur and hair alike. I felt connection in that shift from night, to dawn, to day. I traveled it, with guardians of heart and spirit, earth and air, with the ultimate travelers, Snow Owls.
Some while later, I caught sight of a human moving off in the distance, across the opposite side of the grassy bowl from me. The human had a giant tripod and a lens that must’ve weighed 20 pounds. The owls held court, and the jesters gathered. It was time for me to leave.
I decided to take a track that went away from the owls. Leaving felt right, but still I lingered, and sang a gift of thanks to those who shared this experience with me. When I left, I swung out towards the south and then west. As I did so, I discovered more owls – two, in fact, right in the direction I had chosen to travel.
I felt such warmth and love. I thanked the guardians, the brothers and sisters, and kept moving, the other-worldly glow of the owl presences faded into the other-worldly light of dawn.
As a human in the modern world, I am trained to worry. Worry about my impact on the environment. Worry over the details of what I do, or don’t do. If there’s anything that I learned that morning and in the many mornings since, I am welcome to do as I am called and as I dream, and the world will respond as it chooses. In this case, the owls I sought welcomed.
Welcomed by my sisters and brothers.
Welcomed by the sun and the moon.
Welcomed to leave resistance behind.
Welcomed by the life of the bay.
Welcomed by the wind and the strain of the water.
Welcomed by the Earth and the sky.
Welcomed to the gathering of the Snowy Owls.