Another Season of Owling Begins!

owlp.jpg

Last Friday, I went out to my glade with my brother's dogs to sit by the Oregon grape and have some quiet time. The dogs surged ahead and to my surprise…an owl who had been sitting in the glade was startled by their movement and flew away.

It was such a wonderful surprise. I haven't seen my owl family since last fall and I have missed them so much. Although, this is something that attracts me to owls - their unpredictability, their mystery. You never know when or where you are going to see them. And even when they seem to be absent, you know they are out there, somewhere.

Later that evening, sans dogs, I went back to the glade to see if the owl was still in the vicinity, but knowing it wasn't. (In my year of owling, I've never found an owl in the same site he'd/she'd been in when I'd scared them away.)

And guess what? The owl had returned to the glade! I scared it off again, just as the dogs had the first time. But this time, I followed its path and found it in a nearby tree. It let me get very close to it - about 30 feet - and I sat there watching it for about an hour. It was such a privilege.

Then the following Friday, I returned to the glade…and there it was again! Just like last week, it flew away to the same tree it had sat in near me last week.

This is so unusual. I've never seen an owl revisit the same places again and again. This makes me wonder if it has claimed the glade and an abandoned nest there as its home.

It was also unusual that it let me get so close to it without giving me an aggravated clacking of its beak. It makes me wonder: Could this be one of the owlets? Though I have heard it's more and more common for owls to be somewhat unaffected by a human's presence these days, I never found the adult owls I encountered last year to be particularly open to my visits. They heard me long before their babies did and were quick to fly away, though never going far, just in case their little ones needed them. But for the babies, having a human nearby was part of their lives - they knew nothing else. They grew up in my mother's "back yard," where I came to visit them every single weekend.

Is it possible that the parents left the area for new territory, along with two of the owlets, and one stayed behind? Could that happen?

Honestly, I want to believe it. I would love it if this was one of those dear little beings. Especially if it was Vesper, the youngest of the family. Unfortunately, comparing them in photos doesn't help, at all. They still had their juvenile plumage last time I saw them and this owl has all his/her adult feathers.

Owlet or not, it is so wonderful to have this opportunity again to spend time in the company of these beautiful creatures. My hour with the owl was very quiet. It sat in the branches, watching every movement in the fields beyond, every rustle of the bushes. When geese flew overhead, it looked up, watching with interest. (I remember last summer, when Vesper was hunting a duck, and Lyra overhead, perking up at the sound of the quacking.)

These birds are so patient and so slow, and at the same time, lightning quick. When they want to disappear, they can do so in a fraction of a second. When they strike as hunters, you wouldn't even know what hit you.

It's incredibly fascinating to observe them.

Hunting with the owlets

On the evening of September 8th, I headed out into the woods to spend a little quiet time (which I do at least once each week, with no expectation of what I might see. I hadn't seen the owlets in two or three weeks, instead encountering a heron and a peregrine falcon, so I was excited to see whatever Mother Nature decided to show me.

Before I even made it to the woods, I saw one of my owlets sitting on a fence post behind the pole barn. I couldn't believe it. She was so beautiful - still with much of her white coloring, and beautiful "horns" that have fully grown in.

Truthfully, I cannot easily tell these three birds apart, especially when they are alone. Together, I can compare their sizes and behaviors and make a pretty good guess. But when they are alone, I trust my intuition to clue me in. I had the feeling that this one was Lyra - she certainly had that diva attitude about her, which is so like the Lyra that I know.

For the first time since she was a baby, she let me come pretty close to her and watch her for quite a long time. She was mostly napping, but at one point, she puffed up her feathers, opened her mouth as if she were yawning, and made several squawks (still not hooting). I could hear her siblings answering her from the woods beyond, but none appeared.

Some time later, I heard a duck quacking and landing in the pond several hundred yards away - out of sight, but loud enough to hear. Lyra heard it, too. She perked up, moving her head forward and back, forward and back. I thought she might fly off, to explore, but she remained where she was.

I remained there for another ten minutes, taking pictures and watching Lyra, the duck happily quacking over and over again, and suddenly I realized: there are at least two other owls out there in the woods. I couldn't help but think about the duck, who would be completely defenseless against a Great Horned Owl.

I carefully made my way down the hill, hearing Lyra squawk behind me. As I rounded the corner, the pond coming into view…sure enough, there was an owlet sitting on a rock overlooking the water. I had a feeling it was little Vesper, the runt of the family (or, more accurately, the last one born, making her markedly smaller than her older siblings).

Copyright Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright Yancy Lael 2017

I can't explain the feeling I had in that moment. I was nervous, excited, and even a little horrified. There was my beautiful little creature honing in on her prey. All of that gorgeous wildness was about to turn into blood, bone, and death. I have seen what Great Horned Owls can do to other birds - even birds larger than themselves - and it isn't pretty.

I wanted to see Vesper have her moment. I wanted her to have her dinner and keep surviving. I wanted to see her power.

But I also couldn't bear to see a harmless female duck lose her life.

What an odd moment, there in the woods, twilight descending, the shadows growing longer and longer, the sun a stark red against the smoky sky, the pond gently reflecting the tableau surrounding it, the duck happily quacking away. The owl waiting. Watching.

Did this duck have a mate? If her she was a mother, her ducklings would be grown by now, but would she be missed if she never returned home? Would Vesper kill her quickly enough so she would not experience pain?

Whose life was worth more in that moment? The duck? Or the owl? Would allowing the duck to become Vesper's dinner (breakfast?) be fairer than depriving Vesper of her well-earned meal?

I didn't have any answer to any of those questions. But I did know one simple thing: I couldn't bear to witness death in that moment. It was too beautiful. Too surging with life. All three of us living beings who wanted to keep on living. Who wanted to survive.

So I slowly walked toward Vesper, who finally became aware of my presence, and she flew away, into the trees. I felt guilty, but also grateful that I had come at that moment. Grateful that the duck would be able to return home, safe and sound.

I took a few pictures of the duck, then held up my arms and yelled, scaring her away. I knew Vesper would come back if the duck was still there and my attempt to save her would have been in vain. I watched the duck's retreat until she was no longer visible, relieved that she was safe.

I thought about what I'd done as I made my way back up the hill, back toward the house, Lyra still squawking away, still sitting on her post. We so often hear people advise us not to mess with nature. That if you do, it throws everything off balance, sometimes in ways we cannot even foresee.

I find this saying laughable, though. Look how much we have messed with nature in the last 100 years. We cover the earth in concrete, blast through tectonic plates to extract oil from beneath its surface, create enough plastic waste to destroy our ocean habitats, and poison the water with our chemicals. So making a fuss about not touching baby animals that appear to have been abandoned by their parents, or interfering in an animal's hunting habits doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. There are worse kinds of interference happening every day, every second.

But beyond this, using a word like interfere implies that there's a division between us and the wild world. There's us (the domesticated) and them (the wild animals). The truth is, though, that we are all one and the same. We are animals, too. And these so-called wild creatures live among us, and we amongst them, and everything we do affects the other, whether that's our intention or not. (You know what they say about the butterfly flapping its wings in Central Park.)

I have been a part of these birds' lives, and they of mine, since they were born. In their experience, it is normal to have a woman skulking around in the woods, taking pictures of them and watching them. Having me join them on a night of hunting is just another day for them. (Though I still feel guilty that I "stole" Vesper's dinner.)

The action that I took is a reflection of the kind of wild animal I am - philosophical, intellectual, pseudo-logical. I tried to make a moral distinction in that moment (which really was a random choice born of my own perceptions) and when that failed, I made a decision to do what would make me more comfortable. Because, yes, I, like other humans, have been somewhat domesticated, and that domestication alters our perception.

I often wonder what it might be like to have a different perspective - something wildly different. Like an owl's. Would it be as simplistic as we assume it to be? Do owls think about the meaning of life? About the price, born by other beings, to keep them alive?

I feel lucky to have had the experiences I have had with them. To watch, observe, think, wonder. To, in a sense, change my skin just by spending time with them. What would it be like to be one of the woodland's most powerful predators? To be so calculating, efficient, and even, perhaps, cold-hearted?

If you think about it, though, are we so different from our Great Horned Owl companions? Humans are at the top of the food chain. You could argue there is no one more cold-hearted, efficient, or calculating than we are. If we have this in common with the Great Horned Owl, what else might we share?

As they have grown up, I have seen so much tenderness in them. I have seen both the mother and father owls come swooping in the moment they thought their baby was in danger. I have seen the mother owl sit for literally hours at the top of a fence, a powerful sentinel, when one of the babies was too tired to try to fly out of the patch of grass she had fallen into.

I have also seen the babies peck at each other. I've seen them come flying at their father, pummeling him with their wings until the father gave an angry squawk and flew away. And now I have seen them carefully stalking their prey.

I think I am drawn to these owls because of the mystery they represent to me. They live in the darkness. Their lives are, generally, shrouded from the human eye.

But the more I watch them, the more I see humans reflected in their behaviors and the more I see owls reflected in humans. We are all so connected.

Reading the Land

My first boyfriend was obsessed with a series of fantasy novels whose name I can no longer recall. He identified so strongly with the protagonist that he insisted everyone call him by that name instead of the one he was given. When we began dating, he said I was just like the female lead character. The girl in the story was a scryer - she threw stones and was able to find hidden answers in the patterns they made.

At the time, my boyfriend did not know what an intuitive I considered myself to be, how much I believed in magic, or even that I read tarot cards for fun. I found it incredibly affirming that he associated me, early on in the relationship, with someone who had such a strong connection to nature and such deep, intuitive insight.

As the years have gone by, I forgot about that book, about that character. My attention was caught again and again by other things.

Walking through the same woodland for 25 years, my artist's eye starting noticing the contrast between the different colors of bushes and bark. I became entranced with the dances the long grasses made when the wind blew. I especially loved textures and patterns - the way dead rabbitbrush would fan and flatten as it died, lying there alongside elegant twists and turns of living branches, or the delicious, slightly fuzzy bark that would peel away from the trunks of juniper trees.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

I delighted in all of this, always wishing I could capture the beauty with more than just my camera.

And then one day, I read a blog post written by the luminous Sylvia Lindsteadt. She compares the detritus that washes up from the sea to runes and speaks about the secret language of the land that is hidden in these seemingly random items, in the patterns made by sea and sand.

I began to think about the patterns that, at one time I simply noticed, and that now I seek out - the random bone left behind by a coyote, the deer trails that crisscross the woods, the tiny, fluffy owlet feathers that still seem to appear in the most random places.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

While I am glad to notice these things just to appreciate their beauty, what if there is more to our interaction than that? What if these are the runes of the land? What if these are the stones that we scry with? What if these items, these seemingly random placements and patterns, are not at all random? What if they are telling a very specific story of the land around us? What if those stories have instructions for us, information that could help us navigate through our own woodland (or seascape, or desert, or…)?

If we listen, if we read the runes, the stones, the bones, the feathers…what would they tell us?

The friends we make in the wild world

I haven't seen my owlets in nearly two weeks. They grew up fast, as I knew they would. When I first encountered them, they could barely fly. Within 3 weeks, they were expert aviators. When I first met them, they would let me stand a few hundred feet away and take pictures and videos of them with my zoom lens. Within 3 weeks, the moment they heard me coming, they would fly away. I could barely catch a glimpse of them.

I knew they would be gone by the end of the summer, looking for their own territory. But I thought I had at least a month before they went off on their own.

But the last several times I've gone out to look for them, there has been no sign of them. I see feathers here and there that have been lying around for a while - nothing new, nothing fresh.

I listen so carefully, trying to hear their call, but nothing comes. I hear the magpies and the hawks, but no baby owls. Every now and then, I think I hear them…but when I stop to focus, the sound does not recur.

I have to admit, I really miss them. Watching them has been one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. What a privilege to get a chance to watch three baby owls grow into maturity.

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

In a way, they became my friends. I looked for them every Friday and Saturday evening. When you're owling, you have to slow down. You have to listen. The very act of walking so incredibly slowly, of looking into every tree for some clue of their whereabouts, was incredibly relaxing. It helped me manage the stress I've been struggling with at work. It helped me feel connected to a broader, wilder world than the one I currently inhabit.

Without little Lyra, Sirirus, and Vesper, I feel a little bit lost. Suddenly, the world feels so much emptier.

On Monday night, I walked the woods for over an hour, looking for them in the fading light. I began crying, feeling so hopeless that I will see their beautiful yellow eyes again. Was the last time the last time?

My sobbing startled a buck that had been eating grass several feet away. I didn't see him until he spooked and ran away. At the time, I was standing next to the bones of another buck who had died in November 2015, back when my own life was heading deep into the underworld.

The buck gave me some hope. He was young, his antlers velvety. Maybe another sign that my life is finally and fully emerging from that dark, deathly place it was in for so long. One buck left this world, and another has come into it, just beginning his life.

It gave me a little hope, even as I knew I had to face the fact that I might not see my little ones ever again.

I stayed at the farm on Tuesday night - something I don't normally do on a work night. I woke up just before my alarm went off, at 4:30AM. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my alarm to go off at 5. Ten minutes later, I heard hooting.

I knew it was the mother or father owl sitting on the tree just outside the window, as they had done so often just before the babies were born. I couldn't believe it. After almost two weeks, one of them returned! Not one of my babies, but still…it was reassuring to hear one of the adults.

I went on with my day feeling much better, much more hopeful. Maybe I'll see them again. Or maybe the mother owl came to tell me that they were all moved out and happy in their new territories.

At work, a co-worker gave me a birthday present - a pair of owl-shaped earrings. It felt like the owls speaking to me, again, reassuring me.

I don't know if I'll see the little ones again. They might be gone forever, now. But I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. And I hope that the parents - or at least one of them - will stay on at the farm, letting me visit from time to time.

It is just good to know that we have friends out there, somewhere in the wild world, who touched our lives. And maybe we touched theirs, too.

Pay Attention

It always surprises me how challenging it can be to do the simplest thing - like pay attention to what's going on around me. Were we always this distracted?

I get thrown off by my cell phone dinging. I lose my focus when loud cars roll by or people spill into the office, talking loudly. I fall back into old habits of rushing not even always realizing that I'm doing it.

I'm trying to take a slower, more deliberate pace, especially at this time of year, when work is so stressful. I make time to write down my tasks in a date book every day, to help me focus on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I try to force myself to take breaks and to focus on taking care of my body.

Nevertheless, the rush creeps in. Just last weekend, as I was wandering the woods, looking for my owlets, I realized I was crashing through the brush at a rushed pace. Why on earth was I was going so fast?

Habit. Pure and simple. When I walk, I usually walk for fitness and am focused on what I have to get done when my walk is over.

But that's not the case when I'm owling.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I had to remind myself to slow down. I had to remember that I can't find those precious little creatures unless I walk very slowly and listen for their soft calls. I have to pay attention to every little thing around me.

I have to take notice of the magpies flying above. The way the wind is blowing. I have to look so carefully in the trees and listen with deep concentration so I can hear the owls' squawks.

All of this is a necessary reminder.

My bicycle commuting used to be this touchstone of focus for me. I can remember writing blog posts about how much bicycling slowed down my attention and helped me to appreciate the trees and flowers, how it allowed me to notice such "small" things like a beetle crossing the road - something I never would have seen from a car.

But all these years later, in another town, at a much faster pace, I have lost this sense of attention when I'm bicycling. I'm moving too fast. Hurrying too much. Trying to avoid the traffic, trying to get to work on time.

So now I must re-learn this lesson from the owls. Stop. Listen. Look around. Pay attention.

As I reminded myself of this last weekend, I stumbled upon a bush that was surrounded with owl feathers. I stopped, realizing my little owls had been there, probably not so long ago. My focus deepened, instantly.

Looking up for more clues, I found myself almost face-to-face with one of the owls. Right there. So close.

It took me several more minutes to realize that his sister was sitting right next to him, concealed by a branch. And another several minutes to notice his other sister just across the path from me.

There are a lot of things in life that sit quietly in the trees, waiting for us to notice them. It can be hard to see them. Hard to hear them. But if we remember to be deliberate and focused, we will take notice of the clues.

Go slowly. Listen deeply. Look closely.

Pay attention.

In Mystery, They Remain

I spent last Friday evening looking for my owlet twins - with no luck. I roamed 40 acres of land and could not find a trace of them. I couldn't even hear their calls.

Disappointed, I thought I might not get a chance to see them that weekend. Until Saturday night came around.

After seeing their parents flying in the back pasture from the windows of my mother's house, I ran out with binoculars and camera in hand.

As I was snapping pictures, I thought I was imagining what I was seeing. Not two little fluffy white creatures…but three. What? Did I really just see that?

I turned on the video camera with its zoom lens and started watching the little owlet who had landed on a pile of hay (I was too far away to get a good view with the binoculars and certainly couldn't see well enough with my naked eyes). Another stood nearby. And then…sure enough, a third one flew in.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I could not believe it. What kind of blessing is that to have not one, not two, but three owlets growing up before your eyes?

I watched them in awe for nearly an hour. They were playing on a pile of hay that I had gotten it into my head to move a couple months ago. The pile had previously been sitting near the house (once a fort for my nephews) and had rotted over the winters into a pile of disgusting mush. I was so sick of looking at it that in March, I decided to haul it out to the back pasture, with my brother's help.

Well, I couldn't have moved it at a better time. The little owlets seemed to loved using it for hunting and flying practice. The short peaks made for perfect, modest "diving boards" (though they still face-planted an awful lot). They picked up chunks of hay and tried to lift them while flying (mostly unsuccessfully) to (presumably) strengthen their legs and build coordination, they went crazy over the buffet of bugs living in the decomposing matter, and most of all, I imagine, they were listening for the little mice who have since made a home in that pile, honing their ears for the day they will be hunting on their own.

They watched me watching them, often looking directly at me. Their parents fly away whenever I get within 300 feet of them, but the owlets are young enough not to care. I still remain at a distance, but unlike their parents, the young ones will allow me to observe from far away, occasionally looking my way to make sure I'm not coming any closer. Somehow, the mother and father owl will reappear in a nearby tree without my notice, flying away a second time when I get up to leave.

That Saturday night, as I watched and recorded videos, the sun cast a stripe of light straight down onto me and the owls. It was as if our little slice of the earth had turned to gold. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Did this happen every night, I wondered, and I was just too busy indoors to notice? Was it just this time of year, when the sun was at that particular angle in the late spring sky?

I didn't have time to ponder it much more - the light literally disappeared in less than a minute, casting the world into the last stages of dusk, that murky, beautiful gray-blue that emerges along with the stars in the sky.

Little Lyra flew across the field and into a tree at that point, nearly falling out, as she often does. She held on to the branch for dear life, falling upside-down, her wings extended. She looked like a giant, white, fluffy bat. I have seen her do this before and like always, she pulled herself upright again and caught her balance, sitting proudly on the edge of the branch, looking my way as if to say, "See? I got this."

Her brother, Sirius, soon followed her, almost landing on top of her, almost knocking them both off the thin branch that wasn't quite big enough for two birds of that size. Somehow, he managed to regain his balance and both remained steady on their perches.

Below them, their little sibling, the mysterious third fledgling that I had only just met that night, had perched on a fence post and was looking out at the mountains.

When I thought it was just two owls, I randomly decided that they were a boy and a girl (which may or may not be true). This mystery baby…I'm not sure yet. I suppose, in my gut, I think it's a girl. I'm a little stumped on what to name her. But I know she'll send me a clue when the time is right.

Just as the final light of day disappeared behind the mountains, the triplets' mother soared above them, landing in a tree several yards away. Always watching, no doubt. She and her mate are never far from those babies.

I love watching them. I love being reminded of what it means to really pay attention to something. I love the surprises in the world that we fail to notice because we don't go outside enough. Mother Nature is always waiting to remind us of her beauty.

But once the sun goes down, I have to surrender. After dark, I'm sure, is the best show of all - watching the owls hunt and fly and call to one another. But alas, I don't have their eyes. I cannot see in the dark. And illuminating their nighttime rituals with artificial light to satisfy my curiosity just wouldn't be right.

So in mystery, they will remain. I will get a few glimpses of them here and there - hopefully a lot more before these little fledglings move on to find their own territory. But what they do in the dark will stay in the dark, as it is meant to be.

As all mystery is meant to be.

Flying Lessons

Over the weekend, I spent an evening sitting outside, watching the owls. To my surprise, I found out that there was not just one owlet, but two!

There is something about being in proximity to something wild - especially a predator - that thrills me. I came face-to-face with a coyote once and it was a moment I will always remember. Going outside at sunset with a pair of binoculars and finding the yellow eyes of an owl staring back at me is such a rush. And to find not one but two babies, recently. . . it was such a treat.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I sat and watched them for about an hour over the weekend. The father owl came and sat, watching them, for a few minutes, then he flew away. Afterwards, the little boy (I've randomly decided that they are a boy and a girl) flew from the tree he was sitting on and landed on the roof of a pole barn, a few hundred feet away.

Watching these sweet little creatures try to fly was hilarious, heart-warming, and adorable. I didn't see the little boy (who I named Sirius) land, but I heard it - a loud crashing sound on the tin roof of the pole barn. When he took his next leap, he literally collided with a juniper tree, getting his wing stuck in the branches for a moment, until he could maneuver himself into a better position.

After that, he and his sister (who I call Lyra), called to each other for a long time. Their calls are so sweet - not a hoot, hoot, as I expected. Little, baby squawks. They called back and forth again and again until little Lyra took her own journey into another tree, making a similarly clumsy landing.

It was such a happy time. The junipers and willows seemed so happy to be able to catch these little owlets and shelter them between jumps. And their parents were, without a doubt, watching them from nearby.

The next night, I went out looking for them, but could not find them. Until I stopped and listened. I heard them calling to one another again, and followed the sound of their calls. Sure enough, coming down a hill, I noticed Sirius sitting on top of a pole, looking over a field, as the sun went down.

I am sad for the day they will leave us, going out on their own to find their own territory. But for now, this summer, a time when they will remain close to their parents, I'll enjoy every second I get to spend with them.

Fledgling

I find that there is no more dramatic, tragic, or triumphant stage in all this world than nature. Spending time outside feeds my soul in every way. I couldn't love it more.

I try to spend a good portion of the weekend outdoors - especially in places that are a little bit wild. That is mostly accomplished by visiting my mom's ranch, just outside of time. Forty beautiful, slightly secluded acres that are regularly visited by deer, skunks, badgers, owls, ducks, snakes, and coyotes. Even an occasional cougar.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

For the past several years, there has been a Great Horned Owl living on the property. With my love of owls, I often take sunset walks around the property with my camera, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

This year, my job was made easier by the fact that the owl found a mate and they have regularly made appearances near - and sometimes even on (landing on the rooftop) - the house. It's such a delight to see these powerful, beautiful birds swoop down from the trees just outside the window or to hear them hooting once the sun goes down.

A few days ago, my brother made a discovery: the owl couple had a baby.

What a wonderful surprise! Honestly, is there anything cuter than an owlet?

I heard the owls calling on Saturday morning and went out to see if the baby was up and about. I wanted to see her with my own eyes. As I approached the pond, the mother owl swooped down and landed on a fence post right in front of me. I was shocked - and so was she when she realized she had landed right in front of me. She immediately flew away and I laughed because she had come to sit right next to a plastic owl that we installed years ago to scare away the real owls and keep them from killing the ducks.

Whoops. I realized suddenly that it wasn't a plastic owl sitting there. It was the owlet!

I watched her throughout the day, stumbling around on the ground, trying to fly. Her parents swooped down on either side of her whenever she seemed to be in distress. At one point, she made herself a little bed in the grass near a fence and spent the better part of the day there. Her mother sat on the fence post almost the entire time, her head bent down, watching her little one. It was so sweet.

When I checked on Sunday, the owl family was gone. Back to their nest, I assume, with their little fledgling, who only has a little more time with her parents. Soon, she will be on her own, probably leaving the property and looking for her own territory.

The parallels between this journey and my own are clear. I'm in a state of fledge right now, too. I already have my own nest, but my nests have always belonged to someone else (meaning, I've always been a renter). I'm about to leave the nest I'm in and truly find my own territory.

But I think of those owls and how Mother Owl sat with her baby all day long, staring at her, making sure she was not disturbed, making sure she was safe from harm. We all have that force of protection in our lives. We may leave the nest, but we'll always be watched over.

When I think of the dangers that little creature faces - the neighbor's violent dog, coyotes, hawks, rattlesnakes . . . It's a miracle she was hatched from her little egg, and a miracle she made it to 9 or 10 weeks. It's a miracle she left the nest, not quite able to fly. It's a miracle that she's climbing fences and trees and building her leg and wing muscles. It's a miracle that she has gotten this far and that someday - very soon - she will be one of the most powerful predators in the area.

Life is holding her, taking care of her, like it does for all of us. Even when we leave the nest and have to establish our own territory. Our protector is watching from above.

Winter is our teacher

(I wrote this post about a month ago, when we got the first of what I thought would be a handful of storms. And...that storm turned into dozens, dumping several feet of snow on us. We're still in the thick of it, too. Non-stop snow, terrible road conditions, bad accidents... All of which is causing me a whole lot of anxiety. So as it turns out, I obviously still have a LOT to learn from Winter, my teacher.)

I have to say, I’ve noticed a surprising amount of backlash to winter this year. I know many people find the long nights and cold weather hard to bear – in fact, I am one of them. But there’s a certain magic to winter that cannot be denied.

There is nothing like the colors of winter. The grays, blues, pinks, and purples. On some mornings, the sky looks like taffy – striped with 4 or 5 muted pastel tones. In the late afternoon, that muted blue sky becomes deeper and deeper, turning almost sapphire, while the gray of night slowly overtakes it. On especially nice afternoons, the sunset gifts us with a beautiful pink tone.

Then there’s the snow. I admit, I’m not always a huge fan of snow. Even after decades of living in northern climates, I still hate driving in snow and ice. I still fear weather-related car accidents. And I absolutely despise it when we get so much snow at one time that I have to set my routines aside. Not being able to bicycle or take my daily walks because of the messy, dangerous roads is extremely difficult. Within 24 hours, I get pretty extreme cabin fever. After a week or more of this, I have been known to struggle with panic attacks because I feel like I’m trapped. So yes, I’m not always a fan of snow. However…

You can’t deny that snow is beautiful, wondrous, and magical. There is nothing like the feeling of big fat snowflakes landing on your face when riding your bike or walking around town (assuming the roads or sidewalks are clear, of course – if you’re worried about slipping in the ice, then it’s hard to pay attention to the beauty of the snow). And nothing beats the color of the sky when it’s snowing like that.

Snow is like a big, fluffy blanket laying itself down over the earth. If we aren’t rushed by our work schedules, or stressed about the holidays then we have the chance to actually feel an appreciation for this beautiful change in the weather. Think about how fun it is to sled down a hill. Or to feel and hear the sound of snow crunching under your feet. And just seeing the trees and rooftops decorated with that silver-white sparkle is so beautiful.

The best thing about winter is that it gives us permission to slow down, rest, and contemplate. Granted, our society completely denies this and holds us to wildly different expectations. But the only way we’re going to change anything is to start changing ourselves.

Like many of you, I’m not in a position to make drastic lifestyle changes just because it’s winter. I still have to wake up before dawn in order to get to work on time. I still have to put in the same amount of hours in a day. I still struggle with the holiday rush and seasonal affective disorder. And I, too, have to find my way in the holiday rush.

However, as each year passes, I try to adjust as much as I can. I turn off the TV and computer and read a real book (e-books are a no-no, because I’m trying to let my eyes adjust to less light at this time of year, which translates to less screen time) at the end of the day. I work out slightly less (sometimes simply because the snow forces me off the streets and sidewalks). I try to stretch more and go to bed earlier. I take a lot of time to think and try to pull back from activity in order to spend more time on contemplating how I feel, what I want, and where I’m heading over the course of the next year.

In the long term, I have what I call a “winter goal” – a big picture lifestyle goal that I want to move toward over the next few years to help me create the kind of winter I want to have. I want to start clearing more space for that time of year so I have more down time and more time to spend with family, rather than feeling like all the end-of-year tasks are piling up and that I’m busier than ever.

Ultimately, my goal is to be self-employed and to be able to pull back a bit from work in the winter time. I’d like to wake up when my body says it’s time to wake up (around 8 AM, I’ve noticed, in the wintertime) and go to bed earlier. I’d like to have ALL the holiday gifts finished and wrapped by Thanksgiving so I don’t have to run around looking for last-minute items. I’d like to have holiday cards completed by Thanksgiving, as well. I’d like to have all my creative projects finished by Halloween so I can automate everything – from sales to blog posts – in November and not have to touch my website in December. Which leads me to the ultimate goal of wanting to take the entire month of December off. As a teacher, I used to get July and August off, which is really nice, but honestly, I’d rather have a month or two off in winter – especially December, when all I want to do is bake cookies, knit, and spend time with my family.

Now, here’s how I know that our culture doesn’t support this kind of “seasonal living.” I literally felt scared to type out that I wanted to take the whole month of December off, knowing other people would read this. I’ve already heard many times that teachers are “Peter Pans” who never want to grow up because “real adults” work all year long, with only a couple days off for holidays and illness.  There’s still a big part of me that feels like I “should” deny these desires to alter my lifestyle season-by-season – even though that’s what we were MEANT to do. (Electricity and the internet have given us the opportunity to work 24/7/365 – but that’s doesn’t mean we SHOULD.)

So I’m going to dare to listen to my body and believe that I have every right to create a life that works for me and keeps me healthy and happy. I believe this is everyone’s right.

I honestly believe that if we had a little more respect for winter and for the lessons and opportunities it brings, we would feel very differently about this time of year. I suspect so many people hate winter because we live in a summer society. Go, go, go. Fast and hot. Long, long days. Do. Do more. Don’t think, just go. We get angry and frustrated because winter simply refuses to play along with this game. It won’t give us the light or the warmth to allow us to remain in action mode, and our bodies naturally want to pull back a bit, rest, be instead of do. And this is very hard for us to accept.

I also believe that the source of much of our seasonal depression is caused by this inability to alter our lifestyles in the winter. There’s really no social support for those who want and need to pull back and so we feel like we have to fight to keep going, to keep producing. I think it’s easy to fall prey to depression when we feel we cannot give our bodies and souls what they need.

There’s no easy solution to any of this. This is the world we live in and it’s not going to change on its own. In fact, I’d bet that it’ll keep moving in the direction it’s moving in – greater action, longer days, more disruption to our circadian rhythms. I don’t say this out of cynicism, but out of genuine concern. I think it’s imperative that we stay tuned in to what our bodies and souls need and keep pursuing those needs relentlessly. No matter what our society tells us. No matter what’s on our to-do list.

We have to take care of ourselves. That’s what winter is all about. Its severity, for those who live in colder climates, isn’t a mistake made by Mother Nature. It’s a test of will and survival. What do we have to do to stay warm and nourish ourselves in this stark, harsh time?

Breathe. Eat. Rest. Be.

Sometimes, that’s enough. And it should be enough.

So don’t hate winter. Find the beauty and magic in it. Listen for its lessons. And let it change your lifestyle. Let it affect you. Let it mold and shape you.

This time of year was never meant to be simply an interruption of summer. It wasn’t mean to be an inconvenience to ignore.

Winter, as much as summer or any other time of year, is our teacher.