Gracious Wild is primarily about my relationship to two spectacular hawks, but other animals including one defiant barn owl contributed to the story as well. This excerpt from the book Gracious Wild tells about how “Papa Rhett” taught about letting go. I would also say, behind the scenes, that this owl taught me a lot about not caring what other people think. When you have supernatural hearing and sight like he did the truth is always there with you. Why bother trying to figure out another person’s version of the story? He was relentless in stomping out my self-consciousness. I loved this quirky beast and am happy to report that he is still alive and well and representing his kind in front of many audiences a year. Now on to the story…
For days on end there was this unnerving tension between us. I waffled back and forth between my desire for companionship and my complete distrust that anyone would ever want to accompany me along my path of discovery.
With his body language, Rhett seemed to mirror the same experience. One moment he would glare at me and chatter some rubbish, as if to say, “How dare you think you can talk to an owl like me?” The next moment he would take to delicately preening a long flight feather on the end of his wing. His head would gracefully twist sideways as his beak carefully zipped and caressed the barbs of the feather into place. I was swept away in the ballet of the moment until he noticed himself, turned to glare at me, and stomped his foot on the glove.
“Oh yes, that’s right, Rhett, how dare I fall in love with you,” I’d adoringly chuckle. And I did—fall in love with him, that is.
Over time I learned when to sidestep his grumpiness and when to meet it head on. We spent hours in the corridor of green grass that lay between the cages on the property. There he’d fly from my glove to the perch stationed at the far end of the lawn. I’ve been told that owls, for reasons I have yet to speculate on, prefer to fly from the glove to the perch, while hawks prefer the opposite routine. This reversal of roles was healing for me. I had to learn how to communicate to the owl that I was ready. I’ve been told that owls, for reasons I have yet to speculate on, prefer to fly from the glove to the perch, while hawks prefer the opposite routine. This reversal of roles was healing for me. I had to learn how to communicate to the owl that I was ready to let go, rather than beg him and bait him with food to come to me.
This letting go part was easier said than done. It took me weeks of standing with him on the glove, staring at the perch and waiting. The antics I went through to try and convince him to fly were, I’m sure, absolutely hysterical to onlookers. He seemed to gather the most pleasure out of watching me dance, cajole, coax, and whine. Certainly, there must be some key movement or cue that I’m just not doing right or at all, I convinced myself, and continued on with the arm waving and gibberish talking. It’s hard to tell what spirits I cursed or conjured or plain offended, but I just couldn’t get that sticky owl off my glove. This, keep in mind, was the same owl who apparently despised stepping onto my glove at the beginning of every session.
Eventually, though, my persistence paid off and, paradoxically, I was able to let go. Letting go didn’t just entail that I release his leash, point, and say “perch,” because I’d done that dozens of times before with no results. This was an entirely different way of working in the world. Like magic, as I turned to face the perch on this occasion I felt the cells in my body relax and tingle. As I opened my fingers to release my hold on his tether I felt energy lift up through my hand. As I raised my right hand to point to the perch I felt my intent and focus carry me to the perch, and without hesitation Rhett’s stare locked in on his destination and he lifted off. I stood, jaw dropped, and watched him glide like an angel inches above the blades of grass. Then with a whimsical flutter of the tips of his wings he lifted up and lighted quietly on the perch. Every time he left my glove from that moment forward, I had the same transcendental experience. In this way, my friend by default supported me in holding on to the lessons Thalia had brought me. By teaching me how to let go, Papa Rhett was teaching me how to consistently embrace the unknown and live in the moment.