Three Old Women, Owls, and the Spirit of Place

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The Three Old Women In the distance

 

Every morning as I walk down the river path, climb prickly pear hill and enter the lower pasture that nurtures the sage garden I feel a powerful pull I am afraid to trust… I exchange greetings with the Cottonwoods, listening for fluttering heart songs. I feast my eyes on the red dirt road under the soles (souls?) of my feet, soaking in her rich crushed rock, peer at wily lizards scurrying through leaves like lightening. I bathe in the deep shade and light breezes as cottonwoods tufts drift around my legs. Although I can no longer hear the river roaring behind me I know she’s there, just beyond the willows that line the acequias… I remember the “good red road” that Indigenous people walked, the same road I am walking now from west to east. Fire and Ice are my steadfast companions.

 

Raising my eyes from the forest floor I gaze at the simple lines of a new adobe structure that seems to belong to this patch of earth. Surrounded by a few junipers, silvery Russian olives, a Squawberry bush or two, and a forest of recently battered chimiso that I have trimmed with loving attention, the stepped mud walls rise to the sky… perhaps the Cloud People will visit here. The portals are inviting me to enter the house, their cedar wood railings a pleasing contrast to textured sand walls. Lizards climb the adobe walls with ease, their delicately splayed feet finding firm purchase on nubbly mud skin.

 

Once on the porch I stare at another stand of giant cottonwoods with thick fissured trunks and branches that arch over my head. How I have come to love these trees! Whenever I walk under them I feel blessed by Tree Presence, blessed and loved.

 

In early May I scattered wildflower seeds in the holes that my neighbor dug for me. I grimly uprooted plants with injured roots, and we transplanted sacred Datura, an apple tree, and two kinds of sage. One day this man surprised me by saying “we work well together” and I realized that this was true. Was it my imagination or was peace growing between us in the space between words?

 

Each day throughout the month I continue to climb the prickly pear path, and walk through the cottonwood forest to water seedlings that generate hope for new life. I fear the coming heat. The sun burns my shoulders, and some days I feel woozy from the rapidly approaching fire of the summer solstice sun.

 

I search for more wildflowers because my neighbor has taken the time to water barren ground while I water seedlings. I am never disappointed! New green shoots appear like magic. I wonder if he knows that I appreciate his watering. I have tried to tell him, but he is not much of a receiver.

 

Scarlet gaura spiral upwards transforming rose to red; delicate white primroses seek the morning sun. I find clumps of salmon globe mallow, pull tumbleweeds as I stare across the mesa visually climbing the steps of the mountains I call the Three Old Women. Could they be my Desert Mothers too?

 

I think that in the beginning The Powers of Place first seeped into my blood through these three wise “Old Women” who live in the hills beyond the adobe house. When Place casts her spell, an ordinary view becomes the Beloved crying out – “see me, feel me, I am you and you are me” blurring edges between us…weaving mystery and magic through sight and senses, irrevocably marrying me to a piece of Earth without my knowledge, let alone understanding. Place determines the strength of our relationship not me. If this hadn’t happened to me before I wouldn’t have believed it…

 

I am afraid to Love. This bond binds me like no other to Beauty, animals, plants and people, to internal truths, to knowing what I might not want to know, to Life in all its complexity, fragility and strength, and finally to a possible homecoming after two years of wandering in the high desert without any sense of direction. This year, winter/ spring illness eclipsed my body, robbed it of will, sapped precious energy to hike or explore. Six months of soul loss leads to crushing depression and loss of hope.

 

Both the miracle of seeds growing and my attention to watering, birth a tentative hope as I open the door to loving place again. Is this piece of Earth a sanctuary where I might find friendship and peace?

 

Was it necessary to wander alone in the wilderness – to live without knowing, to mourn what was to reach this turning?

 

Of all my fears, self – delusion frightens me most of all. Could I still be desperate enough to imagine this feeling of belonging?

 

I sense not.

 

When I open the door cool rust colored tiles gently massage my feet. The walls warm me with pink sand like hues, the light is soft and inviting, yet the air is blessedly cool and sweet. An immense wooden beam slices through the slanted wood ceiling above my head. In every direction windows open to Nature’s beauty, trees, berry bushes, chimisa, mountains, red dirt, and wild grasses. Wood and mud make the finest of houses, and I have lived in both.

 

Walking towards the kitchen, cobalt tile counters shimmer like spun glass. Over the sink the Three Old Women gaze in at me through the window; our eyes lock in silent recognition. A few nights ago I smudged the rooms with sacred sage. The next morning an elk ran by my front door. An elk antler and a chert fragment had been embedded in the Northern foundational wall. Was this synchronistic occurrence a personal sign? It was tempting to think so. Nature routinely communicates with me through the appearance, disappearance, or death, of animals and plants.

 

When I picked up the owl thread on May Day I felt bewildered…

 

Discovering a great horned owl feather just beyond the east door of the new house meant something I was sure. My neighbor told me that he had been listening for owls in the evening, which seemed hopeful to me for some unknown reason.

 

As friends we had spent the last six months having star crossed encounters many rife with raw anger, and it seemed to me that it was impossible for us to amicably share this piece of land. Hadn’t our differences divided us permanently? When I spied the great horned owl feather I was surprised that he seemed as moved by it as I was. Taking it into the house, he placed it in the Nicho that faces East (where it has found a permanent home). This simple action carried a deep resonance for me although its meaning was veiled. It also reminded me that for the better part of the last eight months owls and I had been in ongoing conversation…so I digress a moment to return to the past…

 

The night of my birthday last September – I was still in Maine – a symphony of owl song brought sharp memories of my mother and I felt the usual fear and ambivalence because my mother loved great horned owls but we also had a deeply troubled relationship… Great horned owls are harbingers of death to some, birds of wisdom to others. They carry a charge that is either positive or negative in every culture and in my life as well. When this trio of owls sang just outside my window the hair on my arms prickled. A Visitation, I thought. Each night thereafter, I was serenaded by these magnificent birds who had moved into a still untouched forest for the first time in thirty years.

 

When I arrived here in November I couldn’t believe it. Great horned owls were perched in cottonwood trees around my neighbor’s house. They sang out on starry nights and heralded pre-dawn skies with me rooted to their whooing seeking out their presence on star cracked winter nights and bittersweet orange (pre-dawn) mornings. This couldn’t be coincidence. Whatever the owls portended I knew I needed to listen with careful attention … I surrendered, even found comfort in their haunting songs. I knew I was being called. Was I being warned?

 

The day I moved out of my neighbor’s house two paired owls flew over my head after hooting to one another in the cottonwood tree… I couldn’t escape the feeling that they were saying goodbye… I experienced an unbearable sadness.

 

I had a very strange dream a day or so later. A strange dis-embodied voice informed me “I am the Spirit of this Land and you shall dine with me.” I awoke with a sense of awe and mystery, believing I had been called for a third time by the Power’s of Place, this time not by Three Old Women, or Great Horned owls (old women in feathery owl capes?) but by another Voice that was clearly male.

 

This dream was followed by another in which I peer in at many diminutive fluffy owls who are sitting at a table and all of them are waving to me! I wave back jubilantly.

 

After moving into the Trailercita owls hooted infrequently and from a great distance. I missed them.

 

I didn’t fare well. This winter was hell.

 

But to return to the present…

 

In May the owls left me a feather reweaving our dormant connection, and owl presence preceded May, the month of my seeding…

 

Each spring all creatures, plants and people participate in Nature’s round – the resurrection of soul, body and spirit as the greening approaches full bloom. Our Mother adorns the Earth with bouquets of flowers… And seeds that have lain dormant for months or years burst out of moist ground… rising from the dead.

 

Will the seeds lying dormant in me grow into blossoms of fragrant flowers?

 

Will the owls finally speak in a language I can comprehend?

 

I look towards the mountains as a bat flies across a waxing full Mayflower moon… The Old Women stand steadfast in silent contemplation.

 

The future remains veiled.