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When I was a child growing up in New Orleans, my parents had a summer house across the lake overlooking the Ponchatoula River where we spent many beautiful summers and Winter weekends. It was there I met the encounter of a Lifetime and I entered the private world of a Great White Owl. Here's my recollection of an event that has left me forever altered.


One lazy summer afternoon after a brisk morning of swimming and tubing down the River, I took a walk alone in the nearby woods as I always liked to do. I saw an owl in a tree and I couldn't believe my eyes. He was not only the largest owl I had ever seen ( I mean he was huge), but more than that, he was solid white - snow white, with black marble looking eyes.

For weeks I faithfully went back to the same, identical spot to watch him. I think I was like fifteen years old, but I remember our brief encounters like it was yesterday. I can still see him sitting high on the swooping limb of this giant Oak Tree, almost but not quite hidden, a truly mesmerizing and intoxicating site, his massiveness and solitude I found to be so eerie and yet hauntingly beautiful. It's like the world stood still for him and I. I heard not a leaf fall, or a cricket dance. Only the wind moving ever so gently through the tree tops; maybe the occasional echo of a dog barking in the faint distance. I often wondered what this Great Owl thought of this girl-child coming to see him every day, same place, same time, without fail. It would have been interesting to know. Like most owls, I'm sure he was extremely intelligent. He oozed with mystery.

And he would always come out just before dusk. Owls are nocturnal, from what little research of them I have done, and they are great hunters and have excellent eyesight in the dark. Well, anyway, I'd just sit on this rock in the little clearing where I first discovered him, and I'd just stare at him, completely in awe and entranced by his quiet, Regal beauty.

I remember feeling quite privileged to observe him. We'd literally stare at one another. He'd watch me very carefully, though. It's like he beckoned me to his stillness. If I attempted to move too close to the tree to get a closer look at him, he'd ruffle his feathers and wings as if to warn me that admiration must be from a distance and any further movement would result in his speedy departure. And of course, since I had entered his world, I realized I had to go by his rules, and I can remember slithering back, almost embarrassed by my childish behavior in wanting to touch everything that I saw. He had made it quite clear that my presence was acceptable, but only on his terms and from the safe distance of the rock. Of course I didn't want him to part company so I obeyed. Returning to the rock, we would resume our infamous study of one another, and I always felt this sinking feeling when the darkness came because that meant I had to leave first, for the darkness succumbed my vision, unlike his that could accommodate the ever-growing blackness enveloping us.

I wonder to this day if he wasn't enthralled with me too. I would like to believe that he was. I'd lie in bed at night and hear the cooing of a great owl, and I'm sure it was him outside my window, like saying goodnight, or enticing me to come out and frolic in the wee hours of the night with him, knowing that I couldn't. He was teasing me . . . come out and play, come out and play, but I know you can't. I knew he was smart and probably could figure that out, no doubt.

Not that I'm that special, but I often think about the relationship that he and I had. What did it mean actually? How come he accepted me into his private world? His wooded domain? How many humans did he stare at other than myself? Unless he could be in two places at once, it was only me he invited to stay and sit beneath the Giant Oak same time, same place, every day, for about three weeks that magical summer.

But that magic was soon to dissipate, unbeknownst to me. One day I told my brother about this Great Owl, and he laughed in total disbelief. So I challenged him to accompany me when it came near the time for me to leave for our private, secret vigil.

So there I was, walking to our "spot" with my brother in tow, giggling and making fun of me all the way. Like, ole' sister, you sure have some imagination. And me swearing to him that I've made friends with this great big White Owl for three weeks now, you'll see. I'll make you eat your very words!!

And with heavy heart, when we arrived, as I stood by the rock and looked up into the limbs of that immense Oak Tree, expecting to see this Great White Predator who was nameless except in my heart and Soul, I stared only into the face of utter emptiness and infinite space. He wasn't there . . .

Was it like he knew I wasn't alone? Did he hear the footsteps of two humans, not one, did his eyes detect the shadow of my brother behind me as we made it to the little clearing in the woods? I don't know.

All I know is, walking back, my brother thinking I'm this terrible liar with a runaway imagination and I'm thinking to myself, why? Why? Why did that owl do this to me? Why did he disappear, of all days, when I needed him the most? My heart was broke. I saw him one last time. I went back alone a couple of days later, not wanting to go back right away in my anger and hurt. I felt almost like the whole thing was insane. Had I been imagining this? Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe he was a figment of my lonely imagination, maybe my mind had conjured him up from the depths of madness and isolation and desperation. But no. There he was, sitting in the limb when I got to the rock, as though he had never left.

"Where were you?" I screamed at him, half-expecting the sound of my voice to facilitate a rapid flight of wings for his stealth-like departure. But he didn't budge. He didn't flicker. He didn't move a feather.

From his vast height, his throne on that wavering limb, he sat motionless, like a porcelain figurine with sad eyes, as though those beautiful eyes had witnessed a terrible and unbelievable betrayal or tragedy. A foreboding in the air was almost thick enough to choke me. The Great White Owl was not so much looking at me as staring me down, as if to say, "you were the one who broke the spell, not I. You were the one who brought an uninvited guest within our midst and dispelled our secret covenant." He looked at me in this patronizing, scolding, wounded way - in a cold and aloof manner he'd never looked at me before. Always he had made me feel like we were equals. Always he had made me feel welcome, as long as I was alone and silent beneath his overbearing trance-like glare. Now I was made to feel like a naughty child caught cheating or stealing and punishment of some form was imminent I knew, almost written on the rock that I sat on.

"So this is it . . ." I whispered, knowing our lives were about to change at this moment, and I, wanting to prolong the moment before devastation, to delay the inevitable loss I was about to suffer, to hold off the moment as long as I could before my world crumbled around me.

But he didn't want to postpone fate - it was time now to sever the cord, the quicker, the better, perhaps then I, this small human compared to his wisdom, could begin to heal from the severance that much sooner if he didn't linger a moment longer, or give me the chance to say I'm sorry. Maybe he too thought there was a possibility that he would change his prerogative and forgive me and stay and continue our unique camaraderie, but that was not the case. I told you, owls are smart. But I know when they leave, when they leave for good, they don't think twice about it, and they don't look back.

His flight was like thunder in my ears. I was deafened by the sound when he flew away; maybe it was a combination of my heart breaking too, my Soul splitting into multi-facets of stardust floating toward infinite, unbridled space, something, some primeval part of me that was a part of him spinning madly into fevered dust and ocean tears. Such a feeling of utter loneliness and cosmic loss like I've never felt or known before ever again. My own cries, my tortured, grief-stricken screams, all sounded so little and small and overtaken in the holocaust of his blink-of-an-eye farewell, and then he was gone Forever. I never saw the great Bird again. Almost as if I didn't believe he could do that, I went back several times during that summer, but he never returned, and after a while, the grass grew up so high around the clearing that it was hard to locate the spot or the rock anymore in the tall grass. I like to continue to think that this Paradise I once had known with him was merely hidden, but never lost. Never totally gone.

I went back many years later after I had grown into a woman, thinking, just maybe my old friend would like to see me again, to see how I turned out, how I grew up. Unbelievably, by a mere twist of fate, I found the old place, and the grass, so tall, tickling my knee caps, but I found the rock and I sat there for about five minutes, at the age of twenty-five, and called out for him and waited, and waited, and hoped. Stillness. Then a sudden movement in the trees, a disturbing flutter of wings. Was it him? I looked around frantically, but I saw nothing. I felt something, though. Something deep, and old and long-ago, poignantly stabbing at my thoughts, at my heart barely healed from that day he deserted me. And as I walked away, chipping away a piece of the stone to take with me as a keepsake, knowing I'd never be back this way again, I felt some eyes on my back, like something, someone was watching me walk away. And I walked away, like he had flown those many years ago, and I didn't look back.

Was it him? Was it perhaps his son? I don't know. I never saw him again after that tender age of fifteen. But I never forgot him and I never will. I was blessed to have been apart of his brief journey through this Life and hope that I made a good human impression on him for the benefit of all Mankind. And I wonder if he ever thought of me over the years, just how could he forget? And I'd like to think that he never took another human like me "under his wing." I hope he has lived a grand old life, coursing the Universe, King of the Sky and of this Wilderness soon to be tamed.

Thank you God, for the memory of him. Please God, I always pray, never let a bullet or famine find him.

And I have these dreams often, of a Great White Owl sitting in a tree. I believe the theory owls are good luck. For I have these dreams during troubled times. Maybe then he is visiting me there, in the conscious of my tortured mental state, for I always awake freshened, with new vigor. Rejuvenated.

From the Stills of Time this nostalgic and deep memory has had a way of re-surfacing through the course of my Life. It always begins as a stirring inside, like when you're anxious and can't sit still or if you're a writer and you have to spill words. The memory of this great Bird has come in waves in my life, and without warning, through people who love owls or have experienced something similar, through pictures, a song, always something that has resulted in a rekindling of what we shared. I always feel this urge to share my memories of him, it helps keep him alive, and afterwards I always feel more balanced in my Life. Maybe this is his way of bringing me back to him, even if its only in memory. Funny, that's what got me in trouble with him in the first place - wanting to share him with others. But who knows? Owls live a long time, and he knows I'm out there, and, after all, we were both young then, and he grew up too.

Where ever you are Great White Owl, I hope a piece of me flies beside you.