My father died when I was eight, and the owl also mysteriously disappeared to unknown realms where I evidently could not follow. Perhaps influenced by this experience, owls have long been one of my favourite animals, especially the barn owl. They have even featured as characters in one of my books – but that, as they say, is another story!
Have you ever looked into the eyes of an owl? Most birds look with one beady eye at a time. With an eye on both sides of the head, they have a wide view on the world – handy for both those who prey as well as for those who in their turn are preyed upon. Not so the owl. As with a human's vision, both his eyes are in the front of his head. He almost looks at you in the same way as we would do, and perhaps for this reason seems closer to us than the chatty parrot, who seems able to 'talk', but who is really only mimicking sounds.
The owl has an observing glance, observing and inscrutable. No other bird looks at you in quite this way. Is this the reason why this bird of the Greek goddess Pallas Athena has acquired a reputation for wisdom? It is true enough that the eagle, for instance, has a fierce look, but that look is different from the owl's inscrutability. The eagle looks out at the world. But we do not have the idea that he is ‘aware’ of his own gazing. His is the remote, dispassionate stare of a calculating hunter.
In contrast to the calculating and passionless eagle, the owl seems to wish to involve us in an unfathomable, unspoken conversation, almost as if it is seeking a dialogue. Recently I looked again into those eyes, this time those of a barn owl that was perched on the heavily-gloved hand of a staff member at our local petting zoo. What did this particular owl have to say to me? What message did it wish to convey through those night-dark eyes?
Perhaps (or so I fancied) the owl’s inscrutable gaze was a reminder to me to remain focused, not to allow myself to become distracted by the events happening to right or left. If the owl does this, then he goes hungry – and so do I. Not for my next meal, but for missing the simplicity of the moment, for not acknowledging and accepting what is directly in front of me on my path, whatever that happens to be. If I look away, then I so easily can become drawn into the emotions of others – emotions which are not my own, even if they are directed at me.
Dear, wise owl! Now I realise what golden word you uttered to me in your silence, what I see reflected in your dark eyes. It is equanimity.