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The Visitation

October 2001

Strange things happen to me sometimes. I will tell you a story about the most recent happening.

One mid-week night, I went out for dinner with my parents, to the Bayou, a Cajun restaurant and bar in downtown Albany. I invited them because Doña Oxford was performing, and my mother was her first piano teacher long ago and I thought it would be fun. Plus, I had a craving for one of the thick juicy blackened catfish fillets I can get down there. After dinner, we went out to the bar and watched Doña and her band sing the blues for a while, she in her 4 inch heels banging on her piano. I had invited my neighbor and friend down to join us around the time I knew my parents would leave, so I could stay longer and have company doing so, and when she arrived, my parents left soon after. We had a few drinks, stopped drinking, sobered up (mostly) and drove home around midnight.

When I got home, I parked the CRV in the garage, and walked up to my stoop and stopped dead in my tracks. There was a creature on my steps! I live in a typical city apartment building - 4 concrete steps (a stoop) up to a doorway with two doors into the building. Sitting right smack in front of the door to my apartment, sat a small, compact, white and brown speckled pile of fur. Or so I thought. I unfroze myself, and crept up to it, slowly, sitting on one of the bottom steps. It didn't move. I made a little noise and moved closer - and slowly, very slowly, a single jet black eye appeared. Then another. It looked like... a gremlin? How could I have a gremlin on my steps? But this creature had black almond shaped eyes, and it just stared at me. It was like nothing I had ever seen in my life.

Around that time, my friend came back outside with her dogs, going for the last walk of the evening - and I shoo'ed her away - "stay back, there is a creature on my steps and the dogs might eat him!" She took them in the other direction, and then back inside, and came to see. Meanwhile, I called Nature Boy, aka my father, and asked him - he was so amazed that I even had an owl on my front stoop that I don't think he knew what to say - after I assured him that I was truly and completely sober after our evening out. While I talked to him, my neighbor and I both snuck up closer to the creature, and noticed that it had a small beak... and then it sunk in... it wasn't fur, it was feather... it was...a bird... it opened its big eyes again... oh, wow... an owl... an OWL? On my stoop in the middle of the city, on Irving Street? What the %$#@!

So, my neighbor knows a thing or two about birds and said we had to get it inside before one of our many neighborhood cats got it - and I agreed - but inside where, my apartment? Apparently that was the plan. Now, I was all for having an owl in my apartment... but I also am a country girl and I knew, more than I know much, that I wasn't SUPPOSED to have an owl in my apartment and none of this made any sense. But, I agreed - and she threw a t-shirt over the little feather-ball, and picked it up. She took it inside, in the light, and gave it an inspection... it laid there in her hand - that small, only about 4-6 inches in size - and scrunched its eyes up tight while she unfurled a wing, gently, looking to see if there was any damage... then checked his feet, to see if there was a problem. I was amazed, I've never seen owl feet up close... he had the fattest, cutest feet, covered with tiny feathers like white fur!

She laid the little guy in a size 11 shoe box (hers, not mine!) and said we would put a lid on it with holes, and put it near a bright light so it would think it was daylight outside and roost, until morning, and then I could take it to the Berkshire Bird Paradise and see what they thought. Sounded like a plan to me - although I really wanted to take it right away, out to Peter Dubacher and let him care for the wee little beastie, I knew that at 1 a.m., I couldn't. She put the lid on the box and set it down... and still, the owl didn't move. I got concerned... had we killed it with shock? It has probably never had a t-shirt thrown on his head before. Why was he even sitting on my steps if he wasn't injured. As I asked these questions, my neighbor took the lid off the box and we peeked in... the little guy just lay there, motionless... and then YIKES! He FLEW out of the box! Across the apartment, into the dining room and SMACK into the wall. Oh No! I was so afraid... we ran to him, and scooped him up in the t-shirt again and he didn't move... we didn't even know if he was alive or dead. She nestled him back into the box again, told me to put some tape on the lid, and take him to Peter, and she went home to bed.

Me, I stayed wide awake... one night owl sitting vigil with another. I got on my laptop and started researching owls on the internet. First, I wanted to know what this little cutie was - I had never seen an owl so small or so cute, and I didn't know if this was a baby, which might explain the behavior - or an adult - although my hunch was it was probably an adult because its feathers were so mature but that still didn't explain the strange behavior. I got absolutely nowhere with the identification - every owl it looked like had no history of being in this country and as it was difficult to even believe an owl was sitting on my stoop, I refused to accept that it had made a transatlantic flight to be there.

The second thing I looked for, was clues about owl behavior. What their habits were, how they lived, how they survived, and grew and developed and all that. I learned a ton - like that very often a baby owl will leave the nest, and go for a maiden voyage and get into difficulties, but the parents were always around to help out. I wondered, was there a Mama and Papa Owl sitting out in the tree wondering where Junior had just gone to with the crazy human ladies? I also learned that owls are not uncommon to cities - but they are rarely, if ever seen. I learned that they are not able to see in the light - they are nocturnal and can only see well in the dark. Which would explain this ones magnificent crash into the wall above my doorway to the kitchen.

The third thing I researched, was for my own amusement. I have always had a fascination with mythology and lore and I knew that owl visitations weren't exactly a good thing. I confirmed, as I thought, that in most mythology, an owl visit was either a harbinger of pending death, a spirit visitor or an omen related to death. Particularly in Native American lore - which is probably where most of my knowledge is, when it comes to mythology - I sat there on my sofa, laptop on me, looking at the faces of warriors and chiefs on my walls and thought, "Oh boy." But, I also found that in many cultures it was also a symbol of wisdom, education or coming knowledge... ahem, that is what it must be, surely. I'm going back to college soon, this just must be a sign that I'm doing the right thing.



While I pondered the ramifications of having an owl visitor, and just how deeply I really believed, there was a sudden noise, and the box holding my feathered guest started to upset... it seemed the bird was trying to fly, IN the box. Now I was afraid that it was going to break a wing, thrashing around in there, and I wondered what I should do. Wait it out and assume he'd go silent again? Let him go?

I decided to try to see if he would fly again, this time outside. If I could get him to swoop up in a tree, then I would know the cats wouldn't get him. Maybe he did have parents sitting outside... he obviously wasn't hurt, but if I kept him captive he might be hurt. I looked at my indians and they looked back and I took the owl in the box outside.

It was now nearing 3 in the morning, and no one was outside. I sat on the front stoop, with the box in front of me, and opened the lid, slowly, so that it was a shield between the creature and my face, in case he did something sudden. And then I just waited. He continued to lay there, motionless - did I imagine all the activity a few moments earlier? I wasn't going to leave until I was sure he was gone and safe - the cats would eat him in one swallow. I waited, and waited, and after a while, the little guy in the box sat up, facing away from me. A moment later, he swiveled his fat round little head around and looked at me and opened up the big black eyes again. It was those eyes that made it hard to identify what he was - they were almond shaped, instead of the big round yellow ringed eyes of most owls. Glittering black. I didn't move a muscle, and he swiveled back to the front. And then UP HE WENT! He swooped in one amazing movement, up, up, and then down, right onto the powerline over my head.

And he turned around and looked at me again. I was like, okay... we know you can fly. Now what? He didn't move. He just sat there, over my stoop, on the powerline, looking down at me. I was getting a serious chill and sore butt, so I went inside and looked out the window. He still sat. I waited up for a while, dozed off... got up at 5 in the morning and looked out... he was still there! Well, as long as he wasn't on the ground or in danger, I figured he would probably be alright, and if he was any sort of owl, when the sun came up, he'd be prompted to go sleep it off somewhere. I had to hope - I couldn't keep my owl eyes open another moment.

When I woke up later that day, I called the Bird Paradise and told Peter my story and he said that it sounded like a Saw Whet Owl, first of all. And although they aren't ordinarily seen much by humans, it was certainly possible to have one hanging around the city. I doubted it was a Saw Whet, simply because of the eyes but then I realized, the poor little thing was squinting at me - I'll bet if he opened his eyes wide he would have had some yellow in his eyes after all. Everything else added up - the markings, the size, the fat furry feet, the coloring, everything. So, I went back online (see credits below) and found this wonderful picture that looks *exactly* like my little visitor (click to enlarge it)

What I really wanted to know from Peter was "did I do the right thing?" I wanted absolution, I guess, from the bird man himself... should I have kept the owl in the box? Or was letting it go okay? I just didn't want to worry. Well, he said that the owl was probably stunned, maybe he flew into something and was resting ... but if he had been injured or trapped (as he was in my doorway), the cats would have definitely got him, so I did the right thing to bring himself until he could get up and go again. And, as long as he flew and wasn't injured at all, chances are he was off telling the rest of the gang about his big adventure the night before with the two human girls.

I felt better. I eventually went outside just to make sure there weren't any feathers laying about, and went about my day. But, strangely enough, the owl stays in my mind all the time, I see him in my minds eye, and I sometimes look up in the powerlines and trees to see if he's up there. My neighbor across the street said he probably has been hanging out up there watching me socialize on the stoop for years and decided to come join the ongoing party, which made me laugh. I like to think I am just a little special to get a visit from an owl, that he was bringing me a message.

I wish he was still here with me - I would rather like to have a wee little owl to ride around on my shoulder all the time. I imagine we would have some wonderful conversations.

(Thanks to http://wiredheart.hispeed.com for the owl picture!)



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