Growing up on a farm, I was familiar with the sound of owls calling at night. Most owls really don’t hoot, in my experience. Screech owls were the most frightening–they sounded like a woman screaming in the woods. Many a night I heard them shrieking to one another in the distance.
We had a tobacco barn that was about two stories high, at least. It was used for firing dark tobacco. There were beams running across from one side wall to the opposite wall, spaced so racks of tobacco could be hung to dry. When it had dried enough, Daddy would build a smouldering fire with sawdust and keep it going for days, firing the tobacco. Climbing up in the barn was perilous work but had to be done. Usually the younger and stronger ones did that and hung the tobacco.
In the spring and summer the tobacco barn was empty, and that’s when the barn owl came to hunt mice, and sometimes just to perch. One day Daddy called me to come with him and “see something special.” We trudged down the rocky dirt road to the tobacco barn, trailed by my dog, Dusty. I named him that because he was the exact color of that dirt road.
Daddy opened the smaller door within the big doors so we could go in, letting a little daylight in to the shady, cool interior. “Look up in that corner,” he said. There was a huge barn owl. It slowly turned its head and stared down at us with yellow eyes. Dusty was nosing around the dirt floor of the barn, and the owl watched him intently. Then it spread its wings and flew out through an open hatch on the side wall. It seemed to fly in slow motion, as if you could see every feather moving precisely.
When I saw this Audubon print it reminded me of that owl. I can see why owls were Athena’s bird and associated with wisdom. That level stare implies knowledge and intuition beyond what we know.