by Thelma Turner
Time was when I thought what I didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing. Books were the source of my egoic assumption. At mealtime, I swallowed words whole from a book on my lap; at night, when mom thought I was asleep, I was reading a book with a flashlight under a sheet I’d poked up like a tent.
Books were my daily bread; daydreams were my dessert. Mom thought I was smart. Dad said I had no common sense. Truth is, I wasn’t smart and I had no common sense.
What follows is the story about a white clay owl who taught me a little about both. It arrived with red wax incense on its flat head and a key that, when wound, gave the owl permission to speak. It came, postmarked Shangri-La, like an avatar, with the message: Look in my head and be blessed. I didn’t understand. I pondered, I pled and I prayed. My efforts were in vain, for under its red cap, this supposed-to-be-wise-owl had no brain.
I know. I looked. There was nothing there.
But maybe, I thought, just maybe—if I put this gift outside in the sun, it would absorb enough solar energy to enlighten its mind. If that didn’t work, I’d perch it on the limb of an oak tree at night, where owl eyes could see and owl lungs could shout “Who? Who? Who goes there?”
Irked at not knowing the answer to the bird’s question, I told that anemic, no-mind owl, “I don’t know who goes there.”
I knew nothing about owls or their wisdom. I’d never seen an owl; never heard one. Nor did I want to.
What I did know was that my kindest, most fun-loving, cross-country-skiing best friend knew a lot about the nature of owls, the habits of trees, the wisdom of both—without opening a book.
She rose with the sun and went to bed when it slid into night. “ I need to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed if ” she paused, “you know—if I’m going to be in my new house by next winter.”
“Will it happen?” I asked, nudging her into her dream. “Can you do it?”
“Don’t know. Can’t predict what will happen. I’m almost sixty, and I’ve wanted to do this for more years than I can count on my fingers and toes six times over.” She giggled at the idea of counting fingers and toes and then added, “All I know is I’m doing it.” For her, that seemed enough.
While her “off-the-grid” house was being built, she camped out in a shack with an outhouse in back. For the whole of one year, even in winter, when the wind was a dirge and the pond a thick block of ice, she lived in a one-room abode made of rough planks she’d pounded and duct-taped together.
In spring, she shoveled a truckload of compost into the soul of her gardens where she heeled in bright yarrow, tall ferns and wild snowballs.
Later, when she had time, she dug proper holes where the roots of her plants could spread out and relax.
I asked her, “Will those you don’t have time to dig holes for, will they survive?”
“Hope so,” she said. “Some may even grow faster.” And she laughed out loud at the thought.
But it was the old oak tree from which she took sustenance, the old oak tree from which she rescued a young owl whose mother had gone out on a hunt and never returned. No matter how many untamed brambles my friend tramped through, she saw not a sign of the mother, only the fledgling still in its nest—wings shuddering with fright, stomach gurgling on empty. And my friend took the young owl into her shack.
Weeks later, it flew out the door, perched on a limb of the oak and then soared up, up like a round-bellied kite into an expanse of blue sky.
Today, I remember the breeze from the north that swept through the oak and later, the flame of red wax that brought shadows to life on my walls. Today, my white clay owl, like my friend, is no longer with me. My young tabby sent it chattering to pieces on my oak floor. Gone was my fake, round-bellied buddha, gone the wild snowberry scent on its breath, its voice calling out, “Who? Who? Who?”
Today, out of the silence, comes the sound of my friend’s laughter. I laugh, too—at the absolute fun of not knowing ‘Who goes there?’ I understand the message the avatar brought me; what the young owl knew without knowing it knew; that my friend knew the day I met her breaking a path on her skis through the snow: “What’s important can’t be found in the head.”
Copyright 2013 ~ Avatar ~ by Thelma Turner