A Barred Owl and Stillness

barred owl
Photo by Philip Brown on Unsplash
Audio recording of content

It was one of those moments when I had to choose whether to get a wildlife photo and risk frightening the subject or simply be present. I had just turned to open the chicken coop door when I saw a barred owl perched on a branch just above my head and maybe two arm lengths away from me. 

I was startled. 

The owl was not. 

Unperturbed, they didn’t move. Didn’t even blink. Just stared at me with their dark eyes. 

“You aren’t here to eat my chickens, are you?” I asked.

No answer.

barred owl in tree
Photo by Justin Wei on Unsplash

I thought about digging my phone out of my pocket to take a photo. The owl was so close. I weighed what I valued more: capturing proof of the owl’s visit to show on social media and my blog, or allow time to stretch as long as possible, etching the moment deep into my memory. 

I went with the second choice, observing the complex pattern of the owl’s feathers, the dark eyes, their unruffled stillness. There’s a lesson here, I thought. 

My brain is frequently running too many programs at once, sometimes requiring a quick nap to allow my wiring and battery to cool. Other times, I get the fatal black screen before an all out crash. If I’m lucky, I successfully reboot without losing anything important. Unfortunately, too many things feel important to me. But I can’t do it all. At least not in one day, which is what I often try to do.

This, I find, is the blessing of retirement. I set my schedule and can change it when something doesn’t work. I have the time to notice things. Not just owls and eagles and wild turkeys, but when my energy is good and when it isn’t. I decide how much time I can manage being in the world—in grocery stores and other public places, trying hard not to over-pack a day or even a week.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? But let’s be real, shit happens. Still, I appreciate having the chance to finally figure out why working in an office environment was so damn hard for me. And to take what I’m learning and make changes in my life. It’s a privilege that shouldn’t just be for the retired or a select few others with resources… like money. But back to my story…


I heard my chickens not-so-subtle mutterings, “Stop dilly dallying, Maery, and let us out of here! We’re hungry!” Cluck, cluck, barrrr…. I needed to let them out of their coop.

I looked back towards the owl, wondering if they were studying me as well. I was outside, in the cold, wearing my green wool cape and Sorel boots. My tangled hair was still damp from showering and held back by three hair clips in my fruitless attempt to train my mane to flow backwards, away from my eyes and mouth. I wondered if the owl was amused.  

barred owl in tree
My one blurry barred owl photo I managed to capture in December 2023

“What a gift to see you so close up. Thank you,” I told the owl. “But please don’t eat my chickens. They’re a little big for you, anyway. But feel free to take the mice.”

I turned and switched on the chickens’ water heater and put their water and feed in place. The owl flew into the woods. Our moment was over. Or was it? 

Stories formed in my head about an old woman, a witch, and the owl who brought her gifts of mice and warnings when danger was near…

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  1. Loved this post…and your relationship to nature. Am always learning from you which I really enjoy/appreciate.

    1. Thanks Bev! I’m just seeing your comments now. Sorry about that. Right now I’m watching our neighborhood wild turkeys – 8 females, 3 adult males, and 2 male youths. I love the ones that come right up to my window and try to figure out what I am. If they find an answer, I hope they clue me in. ‍♀️

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