May 19, 2022
Often on a run before daybreak I find myself exploring out along the margins of my soul.  I suppose it is because I do not run with earbuds which, in turn, is because I relish the respite from the daily inanity of pop culture, the banality of endless war, and the irreconcilability of our culture wars.

I have come to know that if anything breaks the solitude of my pre-dawn darkness, it is something of exquisite interest.  Not anything of this world which my species has created, but something from a distant past in a time and place when the planet was creating us.  Perhaps the muffled question of a Great Horned Owl, the mournful lament of a Say’s Phoebe, or the joyous outpouring of a Northern Mockingbird.  These night sounds always trigger thoughts of who I am, where we came from, and why.

On one of my several routes along the Scottsdale Greenbelt there are two underpasses where the path slips beneath heavily trafficked surface streets.  Between these two tunnels there are two lakes, one with private access, one with public access, and years ago before brushy vegetation obscured pathside views of the former, someone had cordoned it off with a heavy, decorative chain.  That lake is, by some accounts, haunted, but in darkness it speaks to me and conjures up that “why.”

Accessible only to owners living in a small condo complex, and situated in a slight depression in the terrain that leads into a recharge basin, that lake is not now visible from the street or the running path.  In the black of night the guttural squalls, moans, and yelps from the array of water birds--Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons—that utilize the lake are a hair raising aural throwback to a time when our very existence as a species was more dire, yet much simpler in its urgency.

One morning years ago, shortly after moving to this neighborhood, I was out on the running path before daylight and, as I emerged from the tunnel alongside the hidden lake, I felt rather than saw a shadow pass across the upper periphery of my vision.  This faint, soft specter was immediately followed by the loudest, most rasping shriek I had ever heard.  The adrenaline rush I felt was visceral, heart stopping, and mind numbing.

I had run directly under a Barn Owl apparently roosting on the ancient chain beneath the trees around the lake.  If you have never been startled out of your skin by an unexpected encounter with a Barn Owl at night, I’d highly recommend it.  Such an encounter is our quintessential reminder of how things used to be for our ancestors of long ago..  This was what man whispered about in dark and shadowed caves beside flickering firelight.

I have never seen a Barn Owl when specifically searching for one, and I have rarely encountered one in daylight.  Equipped with the best hearing in the animal world, these ghostly wraiths have no need to be about in our visual world.  Mostly, Barn Owls have found me, often startled me witless, and always led me to places in my psyche I’d forgotten I should know.  Just as these nocturnal raptors on the hunt, I find simplicity and clarity hearing the voices of nature in the night.  In the absence of light, the questions of who we are and why we are here become paramount and the answers more lucid, the way things used to be before we and our communications became more socialized.
Barn Owl male in flight