I had gotten into lazy mode during our days at sea. Laying around on deck with a good book and cool tropical drinks was habit forming and I had to shake myself out of the lethargy that invited me to stay put. But when I awoke this morning, and we were anchored in a lagoon off White Owl Island, the smell of the foliage and the cacophony of birds singing was just too much to ignore. So, after a hearty breakfast consisting of lean bacon, eggs, grilled mushrooms, toast and orange marmalade, and two cups of rich dark coffee, I returned to my cabin. Fueled and raring to go, I grabbed my knapsack which was already packed with my camera, sketch pad, and a variety of colored pens and pencils. I strapped a lightweight tripod to the pack and threaded a windbreaker through the straps.
I took the shortcut down to the tender that was rocking gently at the foot of the rope ladder. I could have made it easy on myself and gone to the other side of the ship where a more stable gang plank was set in place and where another larger tender waited, but negotiating the swaying robe ladder seemed more like an adventure to me. Silly me, that is how I so often get myself into trouble. This time though, I managed just fine and settled myself in the bow of the tender where I could feel the spray and enjoy the smells that wafted from the nearby island.
* * *
I had been walking for an hour when I came to a clearing in the forest. It was shaped roughly like an amphitheatre. Lush foliage and large, colorful flowers lined the outside edges while, as if a backdrop to what would be the stage area, tall blossoming trees, much like the tulip trees found in the Eastern United States.
I set up my tripod and took a number of pictures before making a penciled sketch of the amphitheatre. I planned to color it later from memory and with the aid of my photographs. I sat on the ground and lay with my back against a rock warmed by the sun rays that shone like a spotlight into the clearing.
There was not a sound to be heard other than the birds and the occasional rustling in the grass of some unseen creature and the whisper of a breeze. I wondered why none of my fellow passengers were not around. If I had found this magical place, surely some of the others could as well. I closed my eyes and visualized some of the artwork that would result from my time here.
* * *
When I opened my eyes I realized that I had slept for several hours and it was already dusk. Oh m’god, I’ve got to get back to the ship, I thought, in a brief panic. But then I heard, no, felt rather than heard, a sound. A tiny white owl, much like the elf owls that live in the saguaro of the Southwestern United States, landed on a small tree at the edge of the clearing. But this was no elf owl. He was as white as fresh snow and his eyes, yellow in color, burned like automobile headlights on a dark night. He appeared to look right at me, studying me as I did him for several minutes. I can’t describe the feeling, but I felt we connected in some strange but beautiful way, species to species. Then, without warning, he faded away like a ghost.
* * *
I remembered then something that happened to me at home in Apache Junction. It was just a couple of weeks ago. I had fallen asleep in my recliner chair. An open book lay in my lap when I was awakened by a sound, a whoo, hoo hoo. I listened and heard it again a minute or so later. And again. The sound was closer now, right outside as a matter of fact. I got up quietly so as not to awaken my partner who was in bed and asleep. I slipped carefully out of the back door, stopping and holding my breath when on closing the door behind me, it creaked. It never creaked before so why now, I wondered, when I wanted to be as quiet as I could. Whoo hoo hoo. That sounds like an owl, I thought, but I had only once before heard an owl right here in AJ, and that was several years ago. Owls were not frequent visitors right here, to our gated community. We have a large deck that runs the length of the house. A party deck our neighbors call it. Athough we have never used it for parties per sé, we have held many conversational gatherings here. Whoo hoo hoo. It was closer now, really close. I crept forward to the front of the deck and looked up at the street light in front of my neighbor’s house. There he was, hardly more than a large dark shape surveying the neighborhood, looking for, I suspect, a young cottontail, many of which we do have in the park area itself. Probably a Great Horned Owl, I thought, knowing that they were to be found in the desert, but rarely in a built-up area. Whoo hoo hoo, and then, in silent flight he left. I stood for a few minutes in the glow of the street light, hoping he would return. But, he was gone, looking for, I assumed, more plentiful prey. I realized I was getting chilled standing there as I was in my sleep shorts and a thin tee shirt. I returned to the house and to bed with that whoo hoo hoo sound echoing in my head. Strange isn’t it how certain things, especially those connected with wildlife stay with one to be lived over and over.
Owls were plentiful when I was a child back in Wales, but that was not here in my little corner of Arizona. And here, in the space of two weeks, I had had contact so-to-speak with a Great Horned at my home so-to-speak, and now with this tiny little fellow on White Owl Island. There had to be some meaning for these sightings, their being so close together and all, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it could be.
©February 19, 2009