Silent Flight

Silent Flight, an Owl's Medicine

Like a the lightest breath, the faintest whisper, or like nothing at all - the sound of an owl in flight.

Last week, while walking along the bay in the late afternoon, I perceived a soft movement in the leaves at my feet. A feather! But not just any feather. While examining the edges I noticed tiny barbs and touched an airy softness, a lightness that could only belong to a barn owl, Tyto alba.

It was large, a primary flight feather from her left wing, not a feather one can stand to lose...

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Primary feathers, remiges, generate both thrust and lift, enabling bird flight. Owls have unusually special remiges with serrations along the leading edge (rather than smooth edges like hawks). These tiny serrations comb the flow of air over the wings, allowing for silent flight and stealth hunting. 

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Kneeling in the leaves, with the feather in my hand, I gave thanks and made my offering. Then I noticed something else shimmering and dancing in the grass. There was more to this story. It called to me and I continued.

A breath of air passed over me, a caressing breeze nearly too faint to feel, and revealed dancing feather after feather before me. I watched these feathers, still talking to the wind, caught among the dead leaves and debris, drawing them each into the earth. I witnessed this moment between life and death, sky and earth, and knew these feathers were teachers - teachers of gentleness, soothing caresses, lightness and lift.

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I cherished the little, downy ones, and let them fly. I wandered deeper into a small eucalyptus grove, following an unseen path, keeping my senses open.

An adult barn owl molts very slowly and could never survive the loss of so many feathers at once. As a top predator, I wondered how death had come to this owl? I encountered many feathers, keeping some and leaving others, following the winding trail, eventually out of the grove and down to the water's edge. I offered a few plumes to the sea, turned and began to head home.

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I skirted the edge of the eucalyptus grove, stopping to appreciate some rotting branches, bursting with medicinal turkey tail mushrooms, Trametes versicolor. Death into life, and life into medicine, I mused. I collected some to share with the students in my winter workshops.

And then I saw it: her wing!

I couldn't touch it right away; I had to sit beside it for a while and listen. I remembered the story she had shared with me that afternoon and the lessons of the medicine she carried. I recalled the lift of the breeze under my arms with her feathers in my hands. I asked that she share her medicine with me. With her permission, I wrapped the remains of the wing and feathers in my notebook and brought them home.

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After sanitizing everything overnight in the freezer, I washed the feathers and laid them out to dry. Now they are waiting be consecrated and given new life as a ritual tool. I don't know yet the exact form they will take... perhaps a fan? I do know that this owl offers a spirit of soothing gentleness, a soft caress and silent, lifting support.

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Thank you, Mother Owl, may I share your medicine as you intended.