A Walk in Willard’s Woods

I sensed the owl before I saw it.

Turning to Charlotte, my 20-year-old cousin, I said: “I can’t fully explain it, but I have a strong feeling that there’s an owl close by. I wonder how close it is.”

Seconds later, I looked up and saw her—a beautiful barred owl perched 20 feet up in a white pine. She swiveled her head and looked down at us across the brown and white streaks of her back. Her eyes were dark and impenetrable like the coming night, her beak shining bright and yellow like the passing day. Charlotte’s eyes were wide and alert.

I whistled quietly to get the attention of my uncle and parents, who were walking up ahead. As Charlotte kept watch, transfixed by this eagle of the night, I stepped softly up the trail to usher my family into a good view. As we settled into place, the owl flew from the pine’s cover to an open perch.

We immersed ourselves in her features, moaning quietly over the exquisite detail of her feathering; the paradox of her stealth and electrifying presence; the heart-shaped disc through which she watches the world.

Photo of a barred owl (Strix varia) taken in Gatineau Park, Quebec. (Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson)

My mother noticed first what came next. The owl rocked forward and opened her mouth impossibly wide, ejecting a dark mass onto the forest floor. Her business done, she flew off into the folds of deeper woods. After a brief search below her perch, I found the pellet—warm, wet, and smelly. Tiny bones protruded beyond the grayish felt, and a glob of dark blood streaked across the fibers.

I hurried the treasure over to my family and encouraged them all to smell the pellet, an apparently shocking suggestion. But, being good sports, they all took a whiff and appeared interested by the scent, which was distinctly animal. I wrapped the pellet in a napkin and tucked it in my pocket for future inspection.

As we walked back to my uncle’s house in Lexington, MA—just a short distance from Willard’s Woods, the tiny forested gem which we’d been exploring—my family was obviously excited by our encounter. They kept saying: “We never would have seen that owl if it wasn’t for you, Sam.”

I appreciated the appreciation. Through Weaving Earth, I’ve started to develop a number of skills related to bird language, tracking animals and moving with quiet awareness through the forest. These skills helped me to notice a few signs that owls were living nearby, which was great positive reinforcement.

Nevertheless, I think that my family was actually selling their own abilities short by saying “We never would have seen that owl…” The Weaving Earth Immersion program has certainly cultivated my sensing capacity, but while entertaining the idea that I have supernatural powers like Spiderman’s “spidey sense” has a certain appeal, I actually believe that whatever was operating in that moment when I “felt” the owl nearby is something innate to all people, not a select few. I also believe it’s quite natural. What is this capacity and how do we develop it and learn to listen?

This isn’t a question that I necessarily want to answer by reason or with words. I believe that the essence of such experiences is ineffable, and rightly so, as in all likelihood, this ability to sense developed long before language took shape.

But language does provide a positive road to uncovering the essence of sensing: storytelling. What experiences have you had in which this kind of sensing played a prominent role? Tell us in the comments and maybe we can deepen our embodied understanding of this fascinating dimension of our lives.