As a child, the cool, soil-moist air rising from the creek commanded stillness, silence, and reverence. I often stood in the light of the vine-maple sky, spider webs still glued to the sides of my face, and I watched it all glimmer. For long first moments, I stared. There was my breath, there was the chime of small rocks in the creek; the croaking of birds on the other side of the forest. This was a familiar place, each tree trunk a comfort effused with something deeper, something known and unknowable.
As a teenager I forgot the trees. I spent years ignoring the forest. On a sunny day stirred by spring wind, the owl appeared. His wings were stunningly silent, long and tall as trees themselves–gracile and yielding cottonwoods in a meadow. The first time I looked into his eyes was the first time I felt a wild creature gaze back at me. He didn’t look away. His eyes became blacker, blacker, silky, unfathomably black, until I felt a pulling in my chest between fear and fascination.
I carried this moment with me into adulthood. Each time I see an owl–walking my dog in the park; in the predawn morning on a backpacking trip; on a night hike in Costa Rica–I feel renewed. The trees are once again unimaginably tall, and the Earth is alive again.