by C J Mouser
We were living in Sarasota in west central Florida several years ago when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead. Even though we were miles and miles away from ground zero, we prepared. We boarded up windows, bought bottled water, canned goods, batteries and candles. No one knew for sure what Andrew was going to do, so we wanted to be ready.
The day before the storm hit, the skies grew cloudy and dark and the wind began to gust slightly, rattling the palm fronds in the trees and whistling through the telephone and power lines. I spent a lot of time standing on the front porch waiting and watching the sky. That's when I saw the owl.
At roughly two feet tall, he was massive. He was perched on the telephone pole out in front of the house, his body outlined against the dark swirling clouds, regarding me with a steady unflinching stare. We stood and gazed at each other for hours, and he never moved. I lived in the city, seeing an owl of any kind in downtown Sarasota was an oddity. To see one of such great size was mesmerizing; I couldn't take my eyes off of him.
Andrew clipped the southern tip of Florida, did his damage and moved on. Sarasota didn't get as much as a single squall, even though Homestead was devastated. The next morning the owl was gone. I thought about that owl for days, and finally came to the conclusion that he had come up from Homestead to escape the weather. Somehow he must have known that Sarasota would be a safe place to ride it out, and now that the danger had passed, he'd gone home.
Last week, within hours of Hurricane Frances' arrival in Florida, and less than three weeks after Charley had ripped through, my daughter Jillian returned home from town and reported to me that she had seen a great huge owl sitting in the road. My first inclination was to be relieved. I couldn't help thinking about the owl I had seen in Sarasota several years ago, and thinking that maybe this owl was also seeking a safe haven...thinking that maybe he had come from the east coast knowing that points inland would be safer.
I was thinking that animals have great instincts and that even though we live in the country now, such a sighting is still odd, especially since he was just sitting in the middle of the road. It occurred to me that maybe Frances wouldn't be so bad after all, even though she was the size of Texas and packing winds up to 145 miles an hour and there was no way she was going to miss Florida. No way in hell.
Despite the fact that the storm was headed right at us, I took comfort in the sighting of this animal and allowed myself to believe that he knew more than we did, and that just maybe...we would be okay.
"I want to see him." I said suddenly. "You know this is a very good sign! He came here to avoid the storm. Animals know things that we don't, and...well, it's just a good sign!" I insisted.
"Huh?" Jillian began to fidget with her keys, the way she does when she gets nervous.
"I said..." I began pulling on my boots..."take me to him, I want to see him!"
"Well...ummm...I, uh..." She stammered.
"Spit it out, Jill."
"Well, the thing is...I had no time to react! I mean he was just sitting there in the middle of the road, and he blended in with the pavement...I couldn't help it!"
"What are you telling me, girl?"
"Mom! I ran over the stupid thing!" She said with exasperation, as though I should have caught on long ago.
My heart sank! Here we had been sent what I perceived as a sign; a message that any Florida Seminole Indian worth his salt would interpret as 'good medicine'...a clear cut indication that Hardee County, my county, might not be such a bad place to be at the moment. I couldn't help wondering if a person got punished for running over a 'good totem'.
"You what?" I squeaked.
"Well now, it's not as bad as it sounds!" She assured me. "I mean he was just...there! I heard a kind of a 'thunk' sound and..." She had already switched to self-defense mode, a skill that teenagers seem to acquire naturally...like pimples.
"Oh Lord! What have you done?" I wailed.
"He's okay, Mom! I promise!"
"How do you know?" I wrung my hands and considered the implications.
"Well, I went back to check on him and he was still sitting there. Right where he was before...but he had one eye kind of closed, and he was doing this..."
She swayed back and forth in her best impression of an owl that had been hit with a Jeep Grand Cherokee at forty-five miles an hour, and I moaned.
"Well that's fine! That's just peachy! What'll we do now?"
"Mom, listen...he's okay! I tried to get close to him, I was going to bring him home so we could fix him up, but he flew away into a great big pine tree. He's okay, I promise."
"Yes!" She nodded vigorously. "He flew."
I got a stunning visual of this great owl perched high in the limbs of a pine tree, his one good eye pasted on the eastern horizon, watching for the approach of Frances with a massive headache, and I sighed.
As it turns out, the owl was good medicine. What should have been a catastrophic event in Hardee County ended up being bad, but not nearly as bad as Charley, despite the fact that Frances was so much bigger and stronger than Charley. There was some damage but nothing like what Charley had done, so in the end the owl had brought safety with him. Granted, he got run over for his trouble and I feel bad about that, Jill does too, but it all worked out. I'm sure by now he's winging his way home, wherever that may be. In the end, Jillian learned about 'totems', and the owl learned about jeeps, and my faith in 'signs' was restored. I'll never look at a wise old owl in the same way ever again.
CREDITS: American Small Farm Magazine, Homestead.Org, The Polk County Democrat, The Fort Meade Leader, The Naples Golden-Gate Gazette, The Sebring News-Sun, Countryside Magazine and Small Stock Journal, Successful Farming Magazine, The Muse Apprentice Guild, Agriculture Online Correspondent/Florida, The Fencepost Magazine, Acreage Magazine, The Women's Short Story Writer's Showcase, The Wauchula Herald-Advocate. Contact CJ.