From a deep slumber, I awoke suddenly. I lay in the dark wide awake, certainly no habit of mine. The clock by our bed showed that it was one-thirty in the morning. In the depth of my sleep, my subconsciousness had alerted me that something unusual was taking place.
Above the sound of my wife’s gentle breathing and the drone of the fan in the hallway, I heard a sound. It was deep, mysterious, rhythmic. After listening to it three or four times, I realized that what I was hearing was an owl.
We had heard them on a few occasions before. Their call reverberating through the woods fascinated us. Yet attempts to spot them had been futile. As I lay listening, I remembered my wife saying she had heard one recently. Having never seen an owl in the wild before, I was hopeful to do so this night.
So I slid out from beneath the covers, leaving my wife undisturbed. I tiptoed over to the window and lifted the shade. The moon outside was full, casting a silvery glow on the woods behind our house. The leafless trees stood there silhouetted against the night sky. Each crook of their limbs and twigs were distinct, looking like an old man’s arms and fingers. As my eyes searched the branches, the owl continued to call, almost as if beckoning me. Unable to locate it, but sure it was coming from the west side of the house, I grabbed my flashlight and headed downstairs, eager as a child on Christmas Day. As I reached for the handle of the kitchen door, I heard it once again.
As I stepped outside, I felt like I had entered into another world. The reflective luminosity of the moon made the night scene seem magical, like the gentle light of candles warming a room. Everything was utterly still. No breeze moved. I could see every leaf from the recent autumn laying there as if asleep on the forest floor. The air’s sharp coolness chased away any remnants of the fogginess of sleep as I breathed it in.
I then realized that the owl had stopped hooting. Either he had left or, more likely, he had spotted me. As my eyes roved from tree to tree, suddenly I realized it was the latter. For there, about fifty feet away from me midway up a tree, I saw him. I made out clearly his dark, squat, perfect shape framed against the sky as he sat upon a branch. I could clearly distinguish two ear tufts upon his head and, though no expert, realized from a friend’s previous description that this was a Great Horned Owl.
In my amateurish ways, I clicked on my flashlight and sent the beam toward him. I saw his brown wings and mottled chest, and caught the orangish glow of his eyes before he swiveled his head toward his back. Realizing how that would hurt his sensitive eyes, I cut the light off and stood there. In a few moments I saw the shadowy head pivot back in my direction.
I continued to look at him, shivering in the cold. Time seemed to stand still. Then it struck me that though I could not see his eyes, he was looking at me. I began to feel his gaze. There was a weight, an awe for just a few moments, and then a sense of fear even took place. It was not a childish fear that the owl would attack me somehow. Rather, an inexplicable sense of being looked at deeply, down into my soul, came over me. Then, it passed, and for a few minutes longer I enjoyed the peace of that night.
Not wanting to disturb the owl further, I quietly went in and returned to bed to settle back in for the night. With my head upon the pillow, the psalmist’s words regarding the Lord who keeps watch over his people came to mind. As I drifted toward slumber once again, the wonder and then the comfort of knowing his eyes for his people never close washed over me.