“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
I LOVE OWLS, so much so that my mom and step-dad buy owl figures for my birthday, or when they happen upon an owl at a garage sale, or when they see an owl while shopping for something else. Dozens of owls sit on a bookshelf display. Several larger prints of owls hang above them on my office wall.
The other evening my wife and I watched a nature special, “Magic of the Snowy Owl.” We thought we’d see a documentary on what the owl represents, or perhaps how the Inuit people on the North Slope of Alaska view them. Magic and mystery of this beautiful bird.
What we got was something more real.
We observed a mother snowy owl as she hatched a brood of owlets, and a father snowy owl who sometimes flew several miles from his family to find fresh food. We saw the owlets grow quickly under the arctic sun. Polar bears trekked nearby, but didn’t catch the scent of the family of six. Rain and fog dampened the day and drove the catch du jour, lemmings, underground; there’d be no food until the sun reappeared over the tundra.
Father owl eventually found a bountiful supply of lemmings, and he led his family away from the nesting ground, closer to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. But in order to get there, the four owlets had to traverse a potentially dangerous stream. They weren’t flying yet, just hopping, so who knew if they would survive the crossing. One by one, however, they waded into the water, outstretched their expansive, growing wings and paddled safely across.
No one taught them how to cross the water. And until this recording, mankind had never seen snowy owlets swim. But each of them did so, and soon they were taking to flight and preparing to head south for their first migration.
What struck me about witnessing this program on snowy owls was the magic that was inherent in the birth and growth of these owls. No professor of ornithology was needed to explain anything, and no symbologist familiar with the meaning of owls was needed to tell us what they represent. The power was in life itself.
And that’s the same for each of us.
Our bodies may be larger and more complex than owls, but the experience of life is exactly the same. We can choose to hibernate in front of a computer or television and watch other people tell us what they think they know, or we can step outside and walk our own journey.
When something like a potentially dangerous stream crossing comes along our path, we will intuitively know how to move across safely, or we will continue onward and discover another adventure that lies in waiting.
My friend, Eric Keith, recently bought a small acreage in Northwest Missouri. In late October, he showed me around. We walked through brambles and saw the largest tree on the property and pondered the possibilities. He expressed uncertainty about making his dreams for the property come true, but what I love about Eric is that he keeps putting one foot in front of the next — even though he doesn’t know what is coming.
As brave as a couple of snowy owls in the harsh tundra with eggs in the nest, Eric reminds me that life is to be lived, not dissected from afar. For the magic is revealed not by being told what can happen, but by creating that which is aching to be expressed.