Owl Medicine

by JoAnne Dodgson

The full moon rose up over the horizon, glowing orange, illuminating the summer night. A woman walked among the trees as moonshadows danced along the path. She climbed on top of a large boulder, her worn leather bag strapped across her back, and sat facing the moon to soak in the mystical glow.

A Great Horned Owl suddenly emerged from the starry sky, swooping down and lifting the woman up on his wings. Greeting her old friend, the woman settled herself into the soft downy feathers on the owl’s back. Sinking into the soothing rhythms of the owl’s undulating wings, she relished the sweet sensation of warm winds blowing in her face.

“I wish I could fly like this,” the woman told the owl dreamily. “I’d love to be so free.”

“If you want to be free, there’s something for you to see with your very own eyes,” said the owl. “Because it’s time for you to choose.”

“Choose what?” asked the woman. The owl flew on silently, veering sharply to follow the river, heading into the West.

The woman rested back contentedly, her questions drifting away like the wispy clouds she watched dance through the night sky. Soon the once-distant mountains towered overhead, the snowy peaks and rocky ridges in clear view. As the owl glided above alpine forests and meadows, the woman became aware of a mysterious shift in the air. Curious, she sat up, listening and looking for clues. She sensed something building inside the deep stillness, an irresistible calling toward something not yet known.

When she realized the owl was heading straight for a gaping hole in the rocks on the high mountain ridge, she grabbed handfuls of feathers and the strap of her bag, bracing herself with fear. The owl and the woman soared into the cave. She felt disoriented by the breathtaking dive into pitch-black darkness. The air felt clammy and cool. There was a visceral presence of something alive just beyond her reach.

Navigating with keen awareness, the owl flew deeper into the cave, checking from time to time with the woman flying along on his back. When he noticed her breathing had slowed and her clenched fists finally released their frightened grip, the owl reached back toward the woman’s brown leather satchel. With his hooked beak, he pulled out a pair of goggles.

“What are these for?” he asked.

The woman looked at the owl, wide-eyed and puzzled. “I’ve never seen them before,” she replied, closely examining the aged aviator goggles. “How’d they get in my bag?”

“Why am I stuck in this body?”
she moaned.
“I’m fat. I’m ugly. I look terrible in these clothes.”

She tried them on. The tattered leather strap wound around the back of her head and the eyepieces pressed snugly against her forehead and cheeks.

“These fit just right,” marveled the woman as she took a look around.

“What do you see?” asked the owl.

“Well, I can’t see much of anything. Except my own reflection.” The woman evaluated her reflected image from every angle possible, turning this way and that, all the while taking measurements with her mind. “Why am I stuck in this body?” she moaned. “I’m fat. I’m ugly. I look terrible in these clothes.” She slumped down, discouraged. “No one will ever love me looking like this.” She felt herself falling into a familiar pit of despair, fidgeting and fretting, desperately trying to hide.

The owl plucked a pair of pink plastic sunglasses out of the woman’s leather bag. “What do you carry these around for?” asked the owl, tossing them back to her.

Grumbling and groaning, still disgusted with herself, the woman frantically reached out to catch the precious possession flying through the air. Though she couldn’t recall putting anything pink in her bag, she had a feeling this was something she didn’t want to lose.

Straining to see through the cloudy lenses of the goggles, she could tell the sunglasses were stylish and sleek. “Oh, these are much better,” she muttered. She tore off the aviator goggles, spitefully throwing them back in her bag, and hungrily put on the pink diamond-studded sunglasses. She was pleased with how perfectly they fit, slipping smoothly behind her ears and settling lightly onto the bridge of her nose.

“What do you see?” asked the owl.

“It’s my reflection again,” the woman reported, habitually measuring her appearance and evaluating her worth. Her eyes glazed over and a big grin broke out on her face. “Everyone will notice me wherever I go. I’ll capture everybody’s attention.” She leaned forward to whisper in the owl’s ear. “All the other women will be jealous, wishing they could be more like me.”

She sat back gloating. “This is what I’ve sacrificed everything for. It’s been worth it, all the money and pain and struggle. Look at me now!” The woman kept repeating her self-congratulations while admiring her own reflection, completely oblivious to anything else.

Soaring deeper into the cave, the owl pulled a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles from the woman’s brown leather bag. “What are these for?” he asked as he placed them on her lap.

The woman looked down at the spectacles and then quickly back up at the owl, scowling. She dramatically pressed the pink diamond-studded sunglasses more securely against her face. “You think I’m going to take these off?” she snapped. She turned her back to the owl and with her hands on her hips, she fussed and fumed, arguing with the owl who didn’t argue back.

Eventually, feeling defeated, she tugged at the pink sunglasses and panicked when she discovered they were stuck on her face. Pulling and twisting, ranting and raving, she finally yanked them off. Begrudgingly, the woman stuffed the diamond-studded sunglasses inside her bag, haunted by a gnawing sense of loss.

Flying along on the back of the owl, the woman stared into the darkness, trying to discern the passing shadows and shapes. She breathed in the cool dank air and heard water dripping into pools far below. Pulling her tattered leather bag closer to her side, she reached out to touch the owl’s downy feathers, reassured by the connection with her old friend. “Owl? Where are we?”

“We’re still in the cave,” he replied.

“I feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride,” the woman sighed, realizing how exhausted she felt. “Where did you ever find those ridiculous glasses?”

“They’re right there in your bag,” said the owl. “You’ve been carrying them for quite some time, putting them on and taking them off, over and over again.”

She quieted the urge to tell him he was wrong because she recognized how familiar those ups and downs felt.

“There’s
something you haven’t quite realized yet…
You have the freedom to choose.”

“There’s something you haven’t quite realized yet,” said the Owl. “You have the freedom to choose.”

“Choose what?” asked the woman.

“Choose ‘who’ is more the question,” he replied, turning his head to look directly in the woman’s eyes. “You have the power to choose to be you.”

The woman looked away, overwhelmed by the loving attentiveness radiating in the owl’s clear eyes. Relieved to find something else to focus on, she fumbled with the wire-rimmed spectacles the owl had placed in her lap. Careful not to bend the fragile wire rims, the woman gingerly put them on. She was instantly consumed with sorrow.

“What do you see?” the owl asked the woman as they glided through the rocky cave walls.

“I can’t do enough, no matter how hard I try,” wailed the woman. “There’s so much poverty and war. So much violence and greed. Too many hungry mouths to feed. Too many broken hearts to mend.” She swallowed hard, a futile effort to dam up the river of tears streaming down her face. “I ache for the earth. I feel the pain of the people. It’s the only noble thing left to do.” The woman could hardly catch her breath, drowning in a sea of suffering and sorrow.

“And what are these for?” called the owl.

The woman blinked back her tears, squinting through the wire-rimmed spectacles. With her movements slowed by aches and pains in her body, she mustered up just enough strength to reach for the binoculars hanging from the owl’s hooked beak. She strained to loop the canvas strap around her neck, pulled off balance by the weight of the binoculars she held in one hand. She wearily took off the wire-rimmed spectacles and dropped them, mindlessly watching them tumble end over end and fall back inside her bag.

Suddenly, an electrifying charge of energy surged through her body. With a white-knuckled grip, she held onto the binoculars, hardly able to sit still with the frenetic urgency rushing through her veins. The binoculars were drawn into position in front of her eyes by an unyielding magnetic force.

“What do you see?” asked the owl, navigating the way through the cave.

The woman vigilantly peered through the binoculars, sweeping left to right, looking up and down, leaning side to side to see over the owl’s great wings. “It’s out there, I just know it. It’s somewhere out there. I’ll find it. Some how. Some day.”

“What are you searching for?” asked the owl.

The woman was shocked he didn’t know. “Well, happiness, of course. And love, obviously. I know it’s out there, somewhere.” Her voice faded away as she got lost in her searchings of the hazy faraways.

The owl plucked another item from the woman’s worn leather bag. “What are these for?” asked the owl. She abruptly aimed the binoculars toward the owl’s beak, refocusing the lenses to get a close-up view.

“Where did you find those?” she shouted gleefully. “I thought I’d lost them. Here, give them to me.” She reached out for the newfound glasses while urgently throwing the binoculars back inside her bag.

Eagerly, the woman put on the black bifocals, peering at the owl over the top of the horn-rimmed frames, her eyebrows raised and her forehead creased with lines of wrinkles.

“Are you sure you know the way?” she asked the owl. “I think we better stop and ask for directions,” she mumbled, rustling through her bag, hoping to find a map.

“We’re still in the cave,” the owl replied, gliding gracefully around a rocky outcropping.

“Hey, would you mind slowing down around those curves?” The tension in the woman’s voice betraying her forced smile. “And you’re flying awfully close to that wall.” The woman launched into a long-winded speech about the importance of flying defensively. Every few moments, she took off her bifocals and emphatically shook them toward the owl to punctuate her key points.

“See, the problem is,” she continued, peering over the top of the black bifocals, “you’re not moving your wings quite right. Let me show you. This is how it should go: One, two. Up, down.” She clapped her hands sharply with each word, watching the owl with great anticipation, certain that now he’d start flying right. She let out an exasperated sigh when the owl kept on flying without even trying to change his ways.

Swallowing up everybody’s pain… Trying to control everything?
I’ve been doing all that for so long.
It’s exhausting.
And it’s not how I want to be.

“No, no no no, you stubborn old owl! You’re not listening to me. It’s supposed to go like this: ONE! WINGS UP!” She raised up her arms to demonstrate proper flying techniques. “TWO. WINGS DOWN!” Her arms dropped dramatically to her sides.

The owl veered sharply and the woman toppled off his back. She tumbled through the air, frantically crying for help. “I don’t know how to fly!” she screamed.

The Great Horned Owl swooped down swiftly, grabbing the woman in one giant claw and her leather bag in the other. He flew straight up and out of the cave through an opening in the rocks. He came to land in a giant sequoia tree, setting the woman and her bag on a branch so she could lean back against the trunk of the ancient tree.

“Take off your glasses,” said the owl. “You’ll see.”

Still shaken, the woman numbly followed the owl’s instructions and dropped the horn-rimmed bifocals back in her bag. She looked out from her perch high in the tree branches, quietly watching the awakening dawn paint the sky red. The woman looked over at the owl and the owl looked kindly back at her. She smiled and soon her relief and delight erupted into a hearty belly laugh.

“I’m sorry I called you stubborn,” she finally said, catching her breath. “I know that’s not what you really are. And that’s not how I really feel.”

The woman looked over at the worn leather bag sitting beside her on the branch. She wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes ~ the ready-to-wear wardrobe of judgments, fears and reactions she unknowingly carried around.

“Swallowing up everybody’s pain? Getting lost forever searching? Trying to control everything?” The woman laughed. “I’ve been doing all that for so long. It’s exhausting. And it’s not how I want to be.” She looked intently at the owl, her eyes lit up with passion. “I really just want to be me.”

“So pick up your bag,” said the owl. “Hold it with your heart and surround those old relics with love. It’s time now to set yourself free.”

When the healing ceremony was complete, the woman and the owl sat side by side among the branches of the giant sequoia tree. They flew east into the rising sun.


Journal, Volume 2 Issue 9