By Shanti Mayberry
One early spring afternoon, I was in my garden studio in our backyard that borders Crest Canyon in Del Mar, when I suddenly felt I was being watched. A shiver went up my spine as I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the canyon trees to find the creature whose presence I felt so strongly. When I focused on the flowering eucalyptus forty feet away, there was a great-horned owl staring back at me. He was only slightly hidden by the canopy of leaves and seemed pleased to have caught my eye, since he proudly ruffled his feathers as if to magnetize my admiration. Our eyes locked and we entered into a deep communion, as lovers might to say things that are beyond words.
Held by the power of the moment and the owl’s gaze, I was amazed to feel such inter-species love. I had seen the owl on several occasions during his twilight time of hunting, and heard him converse with his lady owl at night, but I had never seen him in full daylight. I didn’t question our connection or withdraw in fear, even though I sensed I might be crossing a shamanic threshold. Our visual communion went on for at least ten minutes in stillness, except for his periodic chest thrusting and feather ruffling. Was he flirting with me, I wondered? Does he find me, a human female with no feathers, attractive? I longed to know the answers.
Perhaps he felt my willingness to deepen our relationship, for he now flew to the enormous eucalyptus tree that arches over my writing studio. With the afternoon sun backlighting his feathers, I could see how brilliant they were—bronze, gold, charcoal, tan. He was huge, handsome, and I was in love with him. Then he really started coming on to me— flapping his wings and hooting softly. I hooted back. We continued singing to each other in this way for another ten minutes. I was spellbound, entranced and shocked that I was having an owl love affair, but I didn’t want it to stop. At that moment my phone rang. The loud marimba ring sound startled us both and the owl flew away to safety. I was devastated that the human world had intruded on us and disturbed our budding romance.
Every day after that initial encounter, I went to my studio at the same time to look for him. I could always spot him hidden in one of the nearby canyon trees. Our daily rendezvous was the most important part of my life and I longed for more intimacy. Finally, he granted my desire.
Our relationship culminated at noon, a month after it had begun, when he perched on a small tree about fifteen feet away from my studio. We began with our usual eye contact, chest thrusting and hooting, but this time it became much more vigorous. He was teaching me to dance with him and I think it was his way of courting me. I felt wild and unashamed as if some primal knowing in my body connected us in this ecstatic ritual. Before any serious shape-shifting could occur however, my human husband appeared on the scene, astonished by my gyrations and the close presence of the owl. The lady owl also appeared on a nearby tree, hooting out her disapproval of these courtship dances. My beloved partner flew away to join her.
Through my binoculars, I sadly witnessed what then occurred between the two owls. The female furiously pecked away at her mate, screaming at him for such unfaithful behavior, chased him back and forth on the tree limb, pecking and screaming, until finally they both turned their backs to my view and went pooh.
Alas, I knew my affair was over. From then on whenever I looked for my dear owl, his wife was always by his side, as shown in the photo on this page. I called a local park ranger to find out if it was a known behavior for a large wild bird to bond with a human female and discovered that it does happen, but that it makes the bird’s mate jealous.
Although I have had many close encounters with wild creatures, none has been so prolonged or intimate as the one with my majestic owl. Sometimes, even now, he will fly over my studio on his evening hunting rounds, softly hooting in the moonlight. I know he still lives in the canyon preserve and will live forever in my heart.
—Shanti Mayberry is an EcoPsychologist and counselor, with a goal of helping her clients reconnect with nature.