by Rennie Sparks

In 1970 at about the age of five I had a terrible nightmare. I was standing on top of World Trade Center Building One surrounded by flames and searing heat. I was with a group of adults in office clothes and I, myself, was an adult woman with blonde hair and a shiny blue skirt-suit. We were being pushed closer and closer to the edge of the building by the crowd behind us, all of us pushing to get away from the unbearable heat.

And then I remember someone grabbing my hand as we fell with the crowd into the freezing wind just as the building collapsed and the great fire rose up to devour us all.

That’s when I woke up. I was still a five year old kid and it was still the 1970’s, but I was no longer the same child. I awoke in such a deep, ever-present gloom that I am, today even fifty years later, still grappling with the terrible memory of experiencing someone else’s horrible death high in the sky.

In fact, the memory of that dream was so terrible I remember having out-body-experiences for awhile whenever it bubbled up to my conscious mind. It was easy. I would simply close my eyes and imagine spinning upward in a great spiral away from the bad feelings and then it would happen— I would zoom up into the air above the trees and zoom away in great circles above the streets of my neighborhood for endless hours in utter delight.

It never occurred to me that what I was doing was strange or impossible. And of course, when if finally did occur to me, I couldn’t do it anymore. At about age eight I remember realizing, oh well, I guess I’ve finally gotten too big to fly.

I wish I could remember how to zoom away like that. I wish I could understand how I dreamed a stranger’s awful death thirty years before it happened. And I wish, most of all, to explain to you, my friend, what all this has to do with owls.

Science will tell you that owls are not occult in the least. Science will tell you that owls spend most of their time looking for mice to eat— so much so that when an owl follows you through the woods for an hour in pitch darkness that owl is actually following a mouse you’ve unknowingly flushed from the underbrush with your Frankenstein gait and can’t see with your daylight eyes.

If an owl stares in a window at you for several hours one day— that owl is actually staring at its own  reflection in the glass and wondering if this good-looking stranger knows where the tastiest mice are hiding.

If an owl dives at your head and knocks you down a hill to your death— well, that owl was aiming at a mouse-shaped cowlick in your hair.

If an owl flies apace with your car and stares in the driver’s side window with great silver eyes that never blink and it’s somehow matching the car’s speed without moving its wings— well, you, sir, have a lot of mice riding on top of your car.

In other words: the rational explanations for some owl experiences do nothing to explain why we have been weirded out by owls ever since we started making cave art.

Here are some hard facts: owls cannot move their eyes and so must turn their heads round to change their view. Owls have an extra eye-lid to pull down when attacking and I know that owls, like most birds, produce tears similar to our own.

I don’t know if this proves that birds get sad, but I do know that birds tear up while sleeping, so much so, that there are nocturnal moths that fly around and steal sips of those little salty beads.

I wonder if birds cry the tears now that we will cry in a million years when only our deepest DNA remembers how we once thought we ruled the world.

Of course the question of who rules the world has many answers even now. If we could ask the insects or the trees or the earth itself, all might answer differently.

Regardless— owl eyes are unlike other bird eyes. They are designed to see in what we call ‘pitch dark’. Rather than mere eye balls, owl eyes are enormous tubes that stretch far back behind their ears into the area where a lot of other animals store brains. Of course, the brainless octopus instantly camouflages its body to match the colors around it perhaps because it has no brain and each of its arms can seemingly think on its own.

And so, don’t discount owls. These birds are able to stalk their prey with precision and silence in a deep ultra-violet darkness we can barely imagine.

We do have one thing in common with owls, though: our front-staring hunter’s eyes.

And maybe, as my friend Cameron suggests, that’s the real reason why we’re attracted to owls— the fact that they are one of the few birds we can look directly in the eyes and feel seen by.

Owls, though, see into a world we are blind to. What if there are ultra-violet beacons shining all around us that we simply can not see?

There are humans who report seeing outside our usual spectrum.Some people see auras of color shining out around everything.

“Animals have either a silver-blue aura – which means the animal believes he or she is an animal; or a golden-yellow aura – which means the animal believes he or she is a person.”—so says one internet expert.

On a gardening website I found the idea that trees have auras, too, but they are harder to see because they only extend a few inches beyond their bark while human auras spread around us  in rays that stretch up to three feet. We may glow in the dark to the massive eyes of the owl.

What would it take for any of us to start to see more deeply into what is in front of us?

 We are surrounded, the physicists insist, by vast amounts of energy and matter that we are just barely able to detect by their effect on the things we can see. I immediately understood this to mean that the universe is haunted. What if all around us there are ghosts and ghouls and we are blind to it all? Perhaps we should be thankful?

When I visited my friend Eric in the hospital as cancer metastasized through his body, he kept forgetting he was on his death bed. He would explain to weeping visitors that he was fine. He had simply sprained his back installing a water heater. When he became so sick he could no longer open his eyes he explained to visitors breezily that he’d been out in the sun the day before and was now resting his eyes. He slipped into a coma that way— still talking about how much work he was missing and how he’d be back on his feet in no time.

What I mean to say by bringing up Eric is that while I am convinced I not only dreamed a stranger’s death thirty years before it happened and that I used to know how to fly— I am well aware that these experiences might also be my brain concocting stories to make sense of dark feelings.

When I woke up deeply depressed it might not have been caused by the nightmare, but simply heralded by it.

That awful dream also didn’t come without some context. I grew up on Long Island in NY and had gone with my parents to eat at Windows on the World, the restaurant on top of Tower One.

I remember how the building swayed while we plucked from the opulent buffet table, occasionally swaying so much that the crowded dining room burst into excited gasps and the waiters had to run around telling us how the tower was designed to sway with the wind.

Maybe I dreamed another person’s death years before it happened because it was so awful it exploded outward not just in space, but in time. Maybe I was just a really imaginative and a really sad little girl.

The real reason we can’t comprehend Schroedinger’s Cat paradox is that none of us really care about a theoretical cat. Our brains aren’t made to conceive of such things and yet Dr. Schroedinger insisted it was the most accurate understanding of what is actually happening all the time, moment by moment, in each of our little streams of reality. He believed not only that consciousness is an energy that moves far beyond the confines of a single skull, but that it was the very thing weaving in and out of cat and human, creating universes before us.

,Instead of reckoning with the disturbing news that you may be just another example of a god playing with its toys, most of us prefer to look away. All of us. I imagine even the cat in the box thinks similarly: Yes! Yes! I’ll scratch their eyes the instant this box is opened! Until then, a nap.

My long sadness, my endless grief over a horror that did not happen to me— it has its uses. It has criss-crossed me with emotional stab wounds that do not heal. It has opened me up to the wind.

And so, I think Leonard Cohen got it backwards. It’s not the light we are fighting to keep out, it is the darkness, the great sea of energy that threatens to utterly obliterate our little light.

 What if shadows are not seeking to destroy us, but simply to help us see. Isn’t it the black void of space that allows us to see the light of stars?

But shadows can feel like devouring demons and I needed to get myself on antidepressants when the very thought of tearing up a head of lettuce sent me into hours of tears.

I can chop salads on my best days. On my worst days— the greens wilt and rot in the fridge because I can not bear to look at their dying beauty.

In between those two states is where I mostly live, but life moves like a seesaw and sometimes the guy on the other end just jumps off, sending you plummeting.

I want a life of no alarms and no surprises, but none of us get that life for very long. What I am still grappling with is the notion that it is in our worst moments that our lives receive the greatest gifts.

In 1998 something awful happened to me: I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my wrist. During this bad experience, I also experienced a state of timeless euphoria that changed me forever.

The actual fall, as I remember it was no fall at all. It was an easy glide, a graceful arc through the air as if I were a winged creature utterly in control and time stretched out so leisurely that I had time to think so many thoughts. I remember feeling elated that I had remembered how to fly again just in the nick of time. I remember knowing I had oodles of time, as much as I needed really, to contemplate the coming impact with the stair landing.

I suspected the crash would kill me because I was diving head first through the air above the third floor staircase and heading for a direct impact with the second floor landing below— but I had all the time in the world in which to decide if I wanted to experience it or not. I knew I could just fly away.

I remember really thinking it over and at last deciding to return to earth. I glided down to the landing and sat up. I remember feeling utterly elated. There was no pain or fear. I was full of a goofy euphoria and it was a few seconds before I became aware that my left hand was hanging at a very odd angle.

That’s when the pain set in. And it was bad and I forgot for a long while about my flight.

Later, though, I asked a friend who witnessed the accident. He assured me that nothing about what happened coincided with how I remembered it. In fact I had tumbled down the staircase in a quick heap without ever being airborne and only barely managed to stop myself from tumbling down another flight by jutting out my hand so that my entire weight fell on my wrist.

There is surely a dissociative state you can slip into during a traumatic moment. Some things are just too awful to reckon with straight on. I am left with fact, though, that while I tumbled down and broke my wrist in a moment of chaos what I remember is flying like a swan in a moment so full of time and perspective that it felt realer than the real life that came after it.

I know with certainty that I took that flight and that I took that fall. It’s crazy, yes, but in a weird, hopeful way breaking my wrist became a little lighthouse in my head, a beacon— proof that life can be miraculous even in the midst of the worst of it.

We all have our good memories that we return to again and again— little sparks that give us fuel to return to the here and now and face whatever is next.

You will be surprised, my friends, when I tell you about the brightest lighthouse shining in my head. It’s not that moment when I flew down the staircase. It’s not even the old memories of being able to soar into the sky at will or the time I was on so much LSD that I was able to stick my head right through the wall of a house and speak to a mushroom that had just sprouted in the driveway.

No, the actual experience that broke me open, that left me believing just about anything is possible— it was actually a pretty mundane affair according to the only other witness to the event, my husband Brett. Even all these years later he can not be convinced anything paranormal happened while I can not be dissuaded of the fact that I met my guardian angels in the fog one night in 1987.

It was just before dawn in early September. It was the year before we got married, actually and a hard year. I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan studying creative writing. Brett was back on Long Island, finishing up his grad school program and we were spending the first time apart from each other after being an inseparable couple for two years.

And so, it was a pretty romantic gesture when Brett called me to say he was going to drive the sixteen hours between us so we could spend a weekend together.

It was 2 am, when Brett called again to say he was finally at the edge of town.

I didn’t own a car and I actually wasn’t sure how to direct him to my house. This was a long time before cell phones and GPS and my best bet, I figured was to call a cab. The driver could lead me out to Brett and I could reverse the route to get us back to my apartment in Brett’s car. It didn’t seem like it was going to be all that hard. It was a small college town with corn fields stretching out all around and I happened to live only blocks from a giant stadium that had great, glowing lights burning all night long.

And so I did exactly that and the cab ride was only about fifteen minutes long. It was going to be easy to drive us back.

The truck stop was closed, but there was Brett waiting out front by a phone booth under a crown of street lights and a swirl of autumn moths. I was so happy to see him when I first spotted him from the backseat of the cab that I knew I really loved him.

I remember he looked beautiful and exhausted and I couldn’t wait to get into his arms. He had on jeans with holes at the knees and a green and white jacket from a thrift store and I remember he smelled like snow even though he’d been in a car eating Slim Jims for 16 hours straight.

We got our first embrace in and then I got behind the wheel of his car and headed us back towards the lights of town. I was 22 and I was going to be in bed with my boyfriend in minutes. Life was good.

The highway was empty. At was about 3 am and I was driving fast. We were talking and laughing, but then a heavy fog began to fall around us and I had to slow the car and concentrate on driving. The visibility got worse and worse.

I wasn’t worried, though. I knew it was mostly corn fields around us and I could still see the town lights ahead through the fog, even the high stadium lights and I figured we’d be back at my apartment within fifteen minutes.

But, the mist kept thickening, billowing around the headlights in thick grey snakes. I had to slow down again and click on the high beams and really concentrate to keep the car in its lane.

And I did just that. We stopped talking and I drove us through the fog in silence for what seemed like another half hour.

Suddenly it occurred to me that there were no lights ahead. And then the road got bumpy and narrowed and we were no longer on the highway. I must have driven right past the entire town in the fog.

We were on a narrow country road. There were no lights ahead or behind. I knew we had to turn around, but the road was narrow and edged in tall grass so finally I just decided to stop and make a U turn. There was no one around.

I braked, turned the wheel so we could widen our angle for the U turn and then backed up a few feet toward the shoulder.

I didn’t give it a second’s thought. I was backing up onto roadside we’d just driven over, all of it empty and dark and edged in prairie grass.

But, somehow the car went back only a foot where there should have been at least three feet and suddenly dropped off into thin air.

Even today, thirty years later, I remember the sickening fall and the thud-scrape as the car’s underbelly hitting ground a few feet beneath us.

It made no sense, but somehow I had backed the car not a few feet toward the edge of road I’d just driven, but off into an abyss.

The back half of the car hung off the road now at such an angle that our front wheels were off the ground.

 I rolled down the window and listened to all the car wheels whirring helplessly when I pressed the gas.

At best we were hopelessly stuck. At worst we were about to fall backwards off a cliff.

And then before I could decide what to do next there was a loud bang on the back fender and men’s voices calling out from the fog.

“We gotcha! We gotcha!”

I could vaguely see them come into view through my sideview mirror— the top half of two men in orange construction vests and hard hats standing beneath the back end of our car.

“Go ahead! Pull it forward!”

Another bang came on the back fender and I hit the gas gently and then I felt the back end of the car being lifted straight up so that our front end came down and down until at last the front wheels touched pavement and we rolled forward back onto the road.

We were even facing the right direction. I could see the bright lights of Ann Arbor and the beacon of the stadium all before us.

 Out my rear view mirror I saw a hand wave and then there was another bang on the fender and the men retreated into the fog.

I don’t remember much of the drive home. I mostly remember we felt relieved and tired and so glad to finally get to my apartment as the sun was coming up.

I don’t think I thought much about that lucky break at all in the next five years. And then one day (not coincidentally around the time I was crying over lettuce leaves) I developed a somewhat irrational conviction that those two men who lifted our car out of that black ditch were my guardian angels.

Before you repaint me in a swirl of rainbow unicorns for even mentioning the idea of guardian angels— let me explain.

For me, a belief in angels coincided, as it probably always should, in an equal belief in reality of demons. In fact I felt like actual snake-like shadows, demon eels, were latched all down my spine sucking the life from me. At least this was how I remember describing the situation to my psychiatrist at the time.

Also, there were two rooms in my house that felt so filled with the wailing of hungry ghosts that I could no longer enter them.

I was deep into what my psychiatrist called a ‘psychotic depression’— a sadness so deep it was literally driving me mad.

I felt, of course, weirdly proud of the diagnosis, but I was also thinking a lot about throwing myself onto the train tracks each morning on the way to work so any way of feeling good about myself was a kind of progress.

And then I suddenly remembered that night outside Ann Arbor when I had been suddenly saved.

Regardless of how or why those men arrived to lift our car from a ditch, the fact remains: life can suddenly be okay again just when you’ve given up completely.

And, to have a sudden memory of that kind of spark in life gave me something to cling to in the present hell I was in. Good memories may be just that— a way for the brain to heal itself. Just as bad memories may be the cries of a brain falling into the abyss.

Each time you draw your leaky bucket up from that old well of thoughts it may be your brain simply searching for stored images to match what you’re feeling right now.

We know that memory is unreliable in many ways, but maybe the truth that we can rely on memory telling us always is an emotional one. Maybe it’s simply our brain saying, "There, there, right there, is the feeling, the feeling I once felt.”

Maybe it’s that simple: to feel better just think of better things. And so maybe I saved myself from a suicidal psychosis with an equally psychotic belief in a miracle, or maybe the meds just starting working. Or both.Somehow I have survived.

I suspect that just pondering the possibility of having a guardian angel is a glimmering kind of thought that can start to heal a kind of malignancy in the fabric of our brains. Neuroplasticity, they’re calling it lately. Each time you dive through your head towards a good memory it makes a pathway that ’s easier to find again.

The memory of my guardian angels— it became a glittery guide towards the direction of feeling better.

It is certainly possible there was a work crew out that morning filling in a ditch in the dark behind a sea of prairie grass, but there were no orange cones or construction equipment or lights. I saw only darkness and fog and prairie grass and then the road was gone and the men emerged from nowhere in their bright orange vests and yellow hats and every other feature about them was indistinguishable in my side mirror.

I have asked Brett what he remembers of that night quite a few times over the years. He’s always surprised I’m still rethinking it

“You backed into a construction zone and the workmen lifted us out. There was nothing strange about it.”

Maybe. And maybe it’s just some kind of pride that keeps me insisting on divine intervention instead of admitting I screwed up. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that we crossed some kind of line when my car backed up off that Michigan road into the fog.

What I think lately is that we’re both right. What if what happened in that pre-dawn fog was utterly paranormal and utterly normal at the same time? What if that very paradox is somehow, sometimes, a very real aspect of the oddest moments?

Here’s an example. A few summers ago, I was witness to an actual UFO sighting. I don’t mean to say I saw a UFO. What I saw was two people next to me, seeing something utterly astounding right above them that I was utterly unable to see.

We were in Bristol, down south in the UK, way back in that last carefree summer before the pandemic. We were about two weeks into a European tour— me and Brett with our band mates Jason Toth and Alex McMahon along with our support act, Morgan Geer (aka Drunken Prayer).

It was that wonderful time after a good show when everything’s packed and there’s nothing left to do but just feel grateful and wait for your tour manager to drive you to the hotel.

The night was perfect. A slight breeze was drifting in from the sea and bright, puffy clouds were slowly being pulled across the moonlit sky.

And so we were in no rush to leave the parking lot. The three of us were just leaning up against the van staring up at the sky. Me and Alex and Morgan, all of us tired and peaceful, just staring up at the beauty of the moonlit clouds, wordless.

And then the guys started screaming and pointing.


 “Did you see that!”

“Holy shit!”

Alex’s head was shaking back and forth like he was trying to shake off a mirage that couldn’t be shaken away. Morgan was wild-eyed, staring. They were both talking at once, pointing and screaming and I kept looking and looking where they were pointing and I saw nothing beyond the vague beam of a nightclub’s circling spot light reflecting off the clouds.

“You mean the beam from the dance club?” I kept asking and they kept shaking their heads, no, no no.

In fact I’m not sure that either of them saw a circling nightclub beam. It actually seemed like we were looking at two different skies.

Even two years later when I asked them about what they saw, neither can find words to express the full extent of what happened.

They described a moving tableau of colored lights and several flying machines of unbelievable power and maneuverability. The crafts were weaving in and around each other in incredible complexity and speed. The two of them saw something that took only seconds to see but changed them both forever.

It evidently happens a lot, or so the internet attests. A group of people see something utterly extraordinary, while others right next to them see not a thing beyond the everyday. The really weird thing is this: sometimes when one person sees a UFO flying past, the other people with them report seeing an owl.

Mike Clelland’s enormous book on this and so many more other-worldly owl encounters is called, “The Messengers.”

The book compiles everything from ancient lore to current blogs in a compendium so vast and compelling it’s hard to question the fact that humans have been seeing owls involved in all kinds of eerie and odd things for a very long time.

Are we imagining all of this? Are owls the gatekeepers at the edge of reality, the consort of dark goddesses, the watchers who see invisible worlds? Or, are they just birds doing their best to catch mice in a world over-populated by delusional humans who are still afraid of all manner of shadows in the dark?

It just so happens that Andy Washington who was our tour manager on the very tour when Alex and Morgan saw the UFOs— well, Andy not only doesn’t believe in UFOs, but he actually had a pet owl when he was a kid and he assures me there was nothing weird about it.

Andy named the owl William and the bird sat on his shoulder while they watched after-school TV. I’ve seen pictures and they are adorable, but I asked Andy, “Do you think William was in touch with unseen dimensions?

“No," Andy answers firmly. “Because there aren’t such things.” That’s probably the answer you want from your tour manager, especially one hired to mind a bunch of musicians prone to spotting life-changing tableaus in the empty air above them.

A strange incident occurred a few days before we saw the owl and it was so strange, I’ve felt no urge to tell anyone about it. I know you won’t believe me. I know it’s just too weird and the only reason I’m bringing it up now is because I have the odd conviction that this odd event was the very thing that brought an owl to our yard.

Desert air is strange. In Albuquerque, in the summer, we often get storms with everything but rain. Wind howls, black clouds roll over, thunder and lightning flash and clap— and then it dies away without a single drop of water hitting the earth.

Just such a storm was whipping up around us early last summer and we came out on the back porch to watch.

The trees were dancing back and forth and lightning flashed between groans of thunder. The air had a strange green tinge and felt heavy with moisture even though it still hadn’t rained.

Now lightning began to strike in great zig-zags across the horizon. And then, boom! There was a huge explosion over my neighbor’s roof.

The entire rooftop was clouded in smoke and the noise had been deafening.

I grabbed for my cell phone, assuming the house next door would be ablaze, but then I watched as the smoke dispersed and there was no fire, no singe marks, nothing. The roof was fine.

 Thirty seconds later, as we were still staring at the smoke dispersing over the next door house, it happened again.

This time the explosion was in our yard, about twenty feet from us right there in the empty air before us— a spark burst into appearance with a huge bang. A white point of light was burning in the sky directly in front of us.

The spark spread horizontally with a loud sizzle. Two perfect lines cutting straight out in opposing rays simultaneously sizzling away from each other in perfect synch. The lines burned slowly though, like a sparkler burning down its stick, far slower than any kind of lightning strike I’ve ever seen.

What it looked like was an old TV turning on. You’d pull the knob and a spark flashed at the center of the dark glass and then the light would spread out to both sides before the entire picture jumped up into view.

We watched our lines slowly crackle out about ten feet in both directions. It took about five seconds and then with another loud bang and a huge cloud of smoke, it was all gone.

“Weird lightning,” Brett said and I nodded in agreement. What else was there to say? Maybe we saw a glitch in the matrix or a doorway opening into another dimension? Let’s just call it, ‘ball lightning’— which seems to be a term used to cover anything weird in the sky.

There really isn’t anything else to say except to wonder: could a weird set of explosions somehow have attracted an owl to our yard? None of us will ever know except the owl.

It was some weeks after our altercation at the birdseed bin that I again spotted Limpy, the raccoon.

 It was about 3 am and I was out back, watching for owls and drinking bad wine from an old jelly jar when something in the gloom moved towards me.

It was not an owl though, it was a familiar lopsided shadow moving out of the side yard to the back lawn, followed by three smaller darknesses. Limpy had a family.

The raccoon must have been so enormously pregnant when I caught her in my bird seed bin— maybe fleeing hadn’t even been an option. Now I saw that Limpy’s worries had not ended with giving birth.

She stopped short beneath the ash tree and gazed up in wonder. The tree’s branches reach over to the telephone pole beyond and make a quick road to the alley for the local raccoons. I’ve watched countless groups of them race up and down that ash, but this night Limpy backed away.

It was the rope swing, I realized. The swing I had hung to watch for owls from the dark and then never bothered to use— Limpy was staring up at the canvas monster hanging across her intended path with utter disbelief and horror. She looked like she was seeing a UFO.

I hadn’t, in my owl-obsessions, considered the tree’s opinion or the raccoons or the owl’s or even the rope-swing's.

Just how many points of view are there in your average yard? Physicist Erwin Schrödinger was definite in his answer: “The total number of minds in the entire universe is only one.”

Schrodinger believed that consciousness was a singularity that passed within life forms, but belonged to none or, rather, it belonged to all things in equal measure as needed.

The cat in the Schrodinger’s box isn’t alive or dead until we see it, but what we, also, must await the cat’s eyes upon us to be given life or death in the cat’s universe.

I watched Limpy lead her brood back from the ash tree, over into the far darkness at the other end of the fence where a Japanese pine grows slanted and a bunch of pyracantha make a thorny bridge.

This was a far more challenging climb for the babies— up through sharp needles and thorns and then a walk along the very edge of our fence posts to reach the telephone pole down to the alley.

But, that’s exactly what Limpy made her family do rather than risk the rope swing. There was much crackling and the sound of little raccoons sliding and falling and crying out and then climbing again until finally all four of them made it over to where Limpy waited and then then she led them away down to the alley beyond and their lives outside my yard.

They were gone then from my world, the raccoons, and I from their’s— all of us, little Shivas, destroying universes with the blink of an eye and creating new ones with a cast of a gaze.

There is a strange optimism in all our little points of view, perhaps all of us propelled onward to see what comes next and next and next and next.

Even the skunk that lives under our porch appears quite cheerful in her existence. She exudes a skunk joy in her jaunty little forays across the yard after the sprinklers bring the bugs up from the soil.

It is manna from heaven, gifts from the great skunk god above— at least from our skunk’s point of view. And she is single-minded in her happy pursuit of dinner. So much so, that she is completely indifferent to her audience of humans, cats and raccoons, all of us paused on our night to keep our eyes on that dangerous tail.

The skunk may see us, but we are inanimate objects to her— as boring as the brand new rope swing or the old plastic deer I leaned against a tree when we first moved in and then forgot about. Nothing matters to the little skunk except her universe of easy eating, unless we come into her spraying range and startle her.

The raccoons, especially the new ones, sometimes challenge the little skunk’s right to our yard, but they quickly learn the consequences of such folly.

Our white cat, General Custard, he learned the hard way about what little skunks are capable of.

I was alerted to his agony by wild thrashing noises coming from the laundry room in the middle of the night and I found the cat with his head in the litter box, trying to get something terrible off his face by rubbing it in a box of his own filth.

His eyes were swollen shut and his nose and mouth were so enflamed he was awash in an oozing flow of saliva and snot.

 It wasn’t easy to get him clean or the house, but we all survived the ordeal and are all wiser for it.

You’d think Custard would now give the little skunk the same wide berth the raccoons give her— instead, he appears to be fascinated.

He follows the skunk around the night yard, keeping well back, but compelled to follow her and watch her every move. He is trying to figure out how this strange non-cat cat almost killed him with a swish of her tail.

Will Custard ever come to understand what happened to him? How different is his story from the one told by the skunk or me?

One afternoon, last winter, I noticed Brett dabbling with a set of watercolors.

“It’s inspired by the owl.” He told me as I looked over his shoulder at his work. “You remember the owl,” he asked? “The owl we saw up on the pole?”

“Pole?” I asked. “What pole? The owl we saw was perched on the electrical wire over the yard. We were looking straight up at it. There’s no pole in the back yard.”

Brett looked at me in exasperation and put down his brush and then we  went out back to settle it.

I watched Brett walking around in circles, staring up at the branches for a good while. Finally he spotted something and pointed, “There! There’s the pole.” He was pointing to the telephone pole in the alley behind our property.

“The owl was in our yard,” I cried. “It was here!” I pointed up to the wire.

Brett turned in circles for awhile, shaking his head. “I guess I don’t remember it that way.”

And then something caught his eye beyond the fence.

“Wow,” he cried. “Would you look at that!” He was pointing to a space between houses off to the south of our yard.

I had no idea what he was pointing at and finally he realized it and added, “The house, over there, it’s gone. They must have torn the house down.”

“What house?” I asked? “I don’t remember any house over there.”

That’s the end of part two of, “The owl” by Rennie Sparks.

I don’t know how long it will take me to finish part three, but I will and I hope you’ll join me when it’s done so that we can dive deeper into the shadows that surround: The Owl.