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  • Mj Pettengill

The Owl's Song


Barred Owl

I stood quietly in front of the feeders, waiting for that moment of trust. It is usually a chickadee that flutters in first. One, followed by another, and another, until there is a handful of them perched on random branches.


I imagine birds in trees as decorations. If you take a step back and look at the entire scene, they are lovely adornments, never to be taken for granted.

Once, when I was young, I was lying on my back looking up at the sky. I was in the center of a pine grove where I used to dream, where I once belonged. I noticed the unique color of a blue jay on one of the branches way up high above me. After my eyes adjusted, I was able to see the flock spread out as if they had planned to decorate the entire tree. It was at that moment, I realized that they were, indeed, decorations. I always look at birds in trees that way. Chances are, if you see one, you will likely see another.

So, today, the chickadees swooped in to take their places in the trees before me. They hesitated, mostly because I wasn’t wearing my usual orange hoodie. That was another lesson. If you want to gain the trust of birds (and others), it is important to wear something familiar every time you enter into your shared space. I’ve been wearing that orange hoodie for a long time now.

I always talk to them. Even if I am just going in and out quickly, I say hello. I might compliment how pretty they are. When they hurry off, I say, “It’s me, silly. You don’t have to run (or fly) away.”

I waited patiently in my blue and gray flannel shirt, thinking about how it was my own fault for forgetting the orange hoodie. I spoke quietly like I always do. The bravest one flew to the suet first and then went to the hanging feeder only inches away. That’s all it took. They all followed suit and circled this way and that, landing on all of the various feeders.

A red squirrel started to run off in distress and thought better of it, taking a sunflower seed into its small fingers and deciding that it was worth the risk. If the chickadees were comfortable, the squirrel was too.

The grays never trust. They always run without looking back. Even when I call out, “You don’t have to run, you know!” They never, never stop.

Once the chickadees were darting comfortably within the feeding station, two different species of woodpeckers—hairy and downy—arrived. They took their places, clinging on suet feeders. Following them was a white-breasted nuthatch (an upside-down bird). I have seen many red-breasted nuthatches this winter, so I was happy to see this one. There was so much activity all around, I was filled with optimism.

Then, the clear call of a barred owl rose up and above all else. It was mid-afternoon when this all came about. The sun was high and bright, and it was the first time I had heard the barred owl since an early winter night.

The barred owl is a bringer of wisdom, a keeper of knowledge. It has been unfairly associated as the symbol of death. It is true, the owl can indeed be the messenger of death, but that is very limiting. The owl can also be the messenger of change. Perhaps the change will come as the death of something old, and we are being advised to release that which no longer serves us—to make room for the new.

I walked up the hill towards the sleepy, fertile gardens, to the place where I often sit. When the owl paused, I did as well. I did not want the song to cease. I was mindful of the need for its expression to fill my ears, heart, and head. During this time, when humanity is together in its aloneness, a message such as this should not go unheeded.

I sat on the old porch steps and closed my eyes. The sun warmed my face, while the scent of fresh mud triumphed over ice and snow—ragged remnants of the previous season mixed with brand new life pushing through the cracks.


Before long, the winged orchestra was tuned up and ready to perform. The woodpeckers provided a brilliant percussion session, while the sweet, dark-eyed-juncos were ornamentation—woodwinds in the higher register. The nuthatch had the lower register covered, while the melodious chickadees were the high strings. The owl, the messenger, was the voice of the cello. Its song was intended for me, for my higher-souled-self.


It was a clear call to release the old ways and usher in the new— a plea to look within, reclaiming what has been lost for many generations, tracing back to our ancestors.

Our Mother—this beautiful blue planet—is a gift to be treasured. She has suffered at our hands, significantly wounded, and in our short absence, shows signs of healing. With or without us, She will always find balance.


We can be part of the gift, honoring, loving, and tending to Her gardens of life and living, ready to cherish and bring back what has been broken. To fully comprehend what this means, requires a fresh approach to all that we do and how we relate to one another and ourselves.

The owl’s song did not go unheard. It is part of me now—a melody of hope on the wings of awareness. We may choose to unite in harmony or not. The choice is ours.

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