Four years ago I made a trip to New Mexico to spend the winter and returned for three more winters in a row. A true Night Journey through the Desert. I hadn’t been there three weeks before a Great Horned owl appeared at my door. My dead mother (with whom I had had a devastating relationship and who loved Great Horned owls) was surfacing as a threat…and I just did not want to believe it.
After a few months I was thrilled to make what I believed to be a genuine woman friend. Ironically, I met her at a feminist gathering. Oh, at last! Up until that point the only woman I currently had a close relationship with was a woman who was a former editor that became a virtual friend. I had only met her once (Caveat -watch out for FB friends). My dearest friend Lise (we were thirty years strong) lived too far away for us to see each other although we talked and argued periodically! I was so lonely for a real woman friend that I could see regularly, and share my feelings with … When this woman sought me out I could hardly contain myself. I was that excited.
When I had to leave the house I had rented because of a fire my new friend offered me a place to stay in a trailer on her property. My gratitude overflowed. Once a week or so she would take me on road trips to places I never would have found on my own. To say that I adored her was an understatement. She seemed so kind, so loving, – perfect in every way.
That spring I had a vivid dream of a clay relief that I should make and give her for her birthday. The round pot had a Great Horned owl emerging from its center, which seemed odd. I created the image for my friend in clay and gave it to her for her birthday, although privately I found the image of the owl disturbing. (I should note that after that first owl appearance three weeks after my arrival in New Mexico I continued to be haunted by owl presence, although I earnestly tried to make peace with both Great Horned owls and my dead mother who always came with them.)
I shared so much of my personal life with my friend that it took almost two winters for me to recognize that ‘our emotional sharing’ was one sided. She was a private a person; she withheld her personal feelings under a hood of neutrality, rarely allowing vulnerability to surface… Still, I accepted her on her own terms.
The first real break between us occurred late in November the third year I spent there when she forgot to tell me that she had discovered bear tracks at the river’s edge for a week until it was almost impossible to ‘read’ the story they told. My love of bears was legion. How could she, of all people, have neglected to tell me about the tracks I wondered with rising confusion. The word “mean spirited” surfaced; I swept it away. I acknowledged to myself that we were growing apart though I had no idea why. And I missed her.
A few weeks later I was invited to a winter solstice bonfire but once again my friend forgot to mention that the location had changed. When I arrived after dark no one was there. I waited patiently. When I heard human coyote howls and a discordant ruckus below me I walked down the hill (from the bonfire site) to the beach and discovered that people had gathered there instead. Everyone else, obviously, had been given the new location. Devastated, I left early after giving my friend a winter solstice gift. The next morning I wrote a poem to assuage my grief.
I attempted to talk to my friend about what had happened but she dismissed my concerns saying only that she was sorry; she meant no harm. I believed her.
In retrospect the message was clear and I totally missed it even though I had written about it. I was dealing with a Coyote Woman who could shape shift and become someone else at will. Poetry (like dreaming) never lies.
Nothing was the same after that incident. I began to feel the familiar female loneliness. Although we remained cordial, a visit with her left me enervated – empty inside. We stopped taking regular road trips. The next year when I casually asked her about the date of the winter solstice gathering her response startled me. ‘She assumed that I wouldn’t want to attend.’ It wasn’t until I pressed her for an explanation that she let it slip that her boyfriend resented my reference to whites acting like Indians – (he claimed he had Native blood – the first time I ever heard that statement)- and that everyone else was ‘upset’ with me. I finally got it.
My friend had orchestrated this story by reading and sharing my poem with the rest of her friends garnering support for herself at my expense to deal with her own double nature. I had carried the full responsibility for last year’s confusing winter solstice episode because I had no idea what had gone wrong that night and assumed it must have been my perceptions that had been skewed.
The day her mother died in December I heard a Great Horned owl hooting from my friend’s rooftop on a pre-dawn walk. I remembered the summer before… While my friend was dealing with her mother’s failing health I supported her by writing to her in Switzerland every single day for over a month. Though I had surely been a part of the process I met my friend with her cronies purely by accident while they were on the way to the beach to scatter her mother’s ashes. I had not been included in this ritual. I was stunned and hurt.
Although I saw my friend a few times over the next couple of months she filled the void between us by gossiping about others I barely knew and didn’t care about. Yet, she was kind enough to buy me some groceries in Sante Fe, a place my directional dyslexia prevented me from driving to. The increasing emotional distance between us coupled with the superficial acts of kindness left me feeling as if I was walking on air. When I left hurriedly the following April because of Covid/and work that needed to be done to my house I texted her goodbye.
After my arrival home I attempted to explain why I left in such a hurry (although she knew my leave taking was imminent). She responded obliquely saying that she had let go of ‘owl house’ – (the casita I lived in but had certainly NOT named owl house!) apparently unwilling/unable to tell me that she had dismissed me from her life permanently. Thankfully, I had already accepted that this was the case. She did mention that the last time she was at the casita a Great Horned owl scared her by rising up from the ground. I recognized that this ‘visitation’ spoke volumes about her, and was not about me.
I used the next couple of weeks to question how I had allowed myself to be taken in. After all, even though she opened the door, I chose her as my friend. And for a while she was a model of kindness – and when the darker, more confusing aspects of her began to appear I didn’t want to see them or if I did they baffled me (any attempt I made to address these issues was also side stepped – this became a ‘root’ problem). This was my 50 percent and I had to own it. I wanted and needed women friends and my vulnerability had gotten me into trouble, again. Coyote Women – Sphinx Women – Shape shifters – Owl women like my mother insinuated themselves into my life repeatedly – Women who might be kind but who also garnered power through silence; power and control the opposite of love. The repetitive old pattern. Ironically, what I miss is the relationship I thought I had…
I need to remain wary. The women in my life, except for one, have been untrustworthy. I remind myself that although I may be lonely for female companionship that I can receive sustenance directly from Nature; as mother, father, friend, sister, and brother. Thankfully, the Earth Goddess is always present in my life in both male and female aspects, and I can hope that this last experience will sharpen my awareness around ANY female that attempts to befriend me in the future. Earnest to a fault, I don’t have access to the necessary coyote energy I need to outwit another Coyote Woman.
Owls are often associated with women. New Age folks read owls as wisdom figures but this belief has poor grounding in reality. The Greek goddess Athena, a real killer and goddess of war had a little owl on her shoulder.
Some owls like the Barred owl seem less deadly when they appear or call.
Great Horned owls, on the other hand, are associated with sorcery/witchcraft and are omens of death. Many Indigenous tribes fear them because to hear or see one means a relative/friend/self will die.
Three weeks before my mother died I heard Great Horned owls calling just outside my west window from the west every single night– the hair on my skin prickled ominously.
The same thing happened before I left for New Mexico the second time. On the night of my birthday a whole family of them serenaded me from all directions. There have been many other times – most of these happening are recorded in biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s data bank.
Whatever else these owls may be about besides death of one kind or another they speak to the darker side of human nature which I have tendency to ignore in people I care about.
While in New Mexico Great Horned owls followed me everywhere. I did more inner work in order to come to terms with what these owls were warning me about, as well as engaging in yet another round with my dead mother to offset their dark presence … Although I did everything I could to get to the other side of this story – the light side – I was unable to do so.
The Great Horned owl is what s/he is.
Postscript: This narrative was just published formally (not here I don’t consider my blog a publishing site – rather a place to store experiences – and to decide whether or not I want to publish….) Anyway the response was overwhelming… So many many women identified with this story – woman betrayal is common I know – but I didn’t realize this story would touch so many… One woman’s response was spot on. She said that I had to let my mother go – that on some level I was still seeking her out. This remark struck me forcibly because I believed that I had done all the work I needed to do around my original relationship – I actually think this is true – but I also see that part of me will always be vulnerable to women because there is no way the child in me will ever give up her quest for a real mother/friend…There is a hole in me that will never be filled. I equated making peace with my mother with recovering from her abuse. I will never recover – like the Great Horned owl it is what it is. And the owls come to warn me…Below is my response to this woman’s words about the need to let go.
Yes, as a psychologist (Jungian analyst) I am painfully aware that what you say is true …Kindness is a hook for me because my mother was NOT kind… that and the fact that I project too much light onto anyone that exhibits kindness, blinding myself to the rest – eventually I see what I am doing – but this process takes time. Meanwhile the pattern repeats. There is nothing more powerful than that original mother -daughter bond and it does follow us beyond the grave as you obviously know.
It’s interesting to me that “projection” – we all do it with people – and most still do it with all of nature because they don’t have the ability or open mindedness to see that we are all connected! – Thus. we dismiss our relationships with individuals in nature as being childish or psychologically backward when just the opposite is the case. The exception of course is Indigenous peoples who see every aspect of nature as a relative. The one blessing that came out of my relationship with my mother is that I had to turn to nature for sustenance. Had I not had that connection I probably would not have survived let alone become the naturalist I am – a sensitive, a woman who communicates easily with most non human species. This is a gift.