What’s Your Totem?

“To be honest, owls aren’t the brightest of birds, amazing as they are; parrots and crows are much smarter. It’s all in the eyes: those magnificent piercing optics are what make all owls look like they are deep in concentrated scrutiny and steeped in long-lost knowledge.”

― Matt Sewell

I’m not so sure I agree. 

For sure, it is “those magnificent piercing optics”, unlike any other bird, that makes them fascinating to look at; they are mesmerizing when you look into those eyes of concentrated scrutiny, it’s as if they’re looking into your soul.

Those eyes can see just as well in the daylight as any bird, but better than any other at night. Owls are knowledgeable enough to know what has been long-lost or never known to most other birds, that there is less work and more nourishment in silently and quickly swooping down off a perch to grab a couple of mice a night than can be had from spending all day foraging nuts and berries like parrots or crows, and food more often comes out at night than day when other birds of prey spend the entire day flying in search of a meal that is in hiding.

That makes them pretty smart in my book.

When I first read “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White as a child, where Merlin’s owl, Arcimedes, using his own magic, transforms Wart (young Arthur) into an owl to teach him to fly and to see the world from a non-human perspective, I remember wanting to be Wart, wanting to do that myself. I wanted to be an owl.

And then there was some advice I received as a young man from an old woman of Native American descent:

“The owl knows when to move and when to be still. He teaches us, that if we but watch and listen, we will know when and how to confront life’s issues. Make the owl your totem. Be like the owl.”

Thus began my life-long fascination with owls. 

I have prints and watercolors, pen and ink drawings and framed cross-stitched (one of which I did myself) across three walls of my den. The other wall has shelves of figurines made of ceramic, copper, coal, crystal, wood, feathers, eggshell, even cement, in size from under one inch high to two feet tall.

And a daughter-in-law who finds and almost daily sends me the most interesting pictures of owls she finds on the Net (and where we share with each other captions of what we think the owls’ thinking is behind the look on its face).

I think at one time or another each of us has thought about what kind of animal we would be, if we had to choose.

You know my choice.

Which would you choose?

– Bill

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