Small Towns, Ghost Towns and Abandonment

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Main street in american townI have long loved small towns, even though, or, perhaps because, I grew up in cities and metropolitan regions.

There is something very nurturing to me about life in a small town. It’s gentler and calmer. And even when small towns lose their people, I love their remnants. A ghost town or a partially-abandoned village coaxes out my maternal instincts. I find myself wanting to adopt them, love them, color them with many shades of grace. Nelson Ghost town

So after my divorce nine years ago, it was perfectly appropriate that I move to a tiny village in the middle of miles and miles of New Mexican prairie. And since the town was abandoned in sections, I felt at-one with it because I’d also been abandoned by love.

For three+ years I lived in The Resting Place, as translated from Spanish, and rebuilt a house, my soul, and my creativity.

In honor of this sacred time of my life, and, primarily in homage to the very special and solitary barn owl who adopted me, I’ve written a short story.

Barn Owl

    A FEATHERED MIRACLE

I’ve been conflicted about barn owls for quite a while.

Why barn owls? Well, they’re beautiful, stealthy, mysterious creatures that allure me. But, one killed my newborn kitten, China Blue, years ago in the backwoods of Virginia. And that left me queasy.

I’ve since changed my heart dramatically.

Let’s fast forward three decades. The year is 2007. I’m suddenly and traumatically divorced. I’m living out on the high plains of New Mexico in a tiny village. I’m hiding out for a spell; for recovery. I’m hiding primarily from men. Because I’m wounded, I want the warmth of women around me. I swear I’ll never date or marry another man. I want only friendship with men – and that’s friendship with no benefits.

During the first year of cloistering, I spent much time rebuilding a house and remodeling my soul. Prayer and meditation and journaling were daily ablutions. I was living in self-imposed isolation and beginning to feel like a saint in a shanty, or, perhaps, a monk minus a monastery. Whenever reclusiveness transformed into desolation, I’d go out for a walk. Commune with nature. Breathe deeply that sacred air of open space.

On one of my wanderings, I walked down the gravel driveway, following the scalloped edges of decorative bricks that outlined a row of Siberian elm trees. When I wasn’t staring at air, I often gazed at the ground. The dirt, as fine as talcum powder, fascinated me. The botanical beauty that survived despite such lean resources awed me. So, in this frame of mind, I was watching my feet crunch grey gravel, when, abruptly, I almost stepped on a large, oval-shaped, tobacco-colored ball. At quick glance, it could have been dog dung; on second inspection, I noticed the smooth, dry coating. Cigar-like in texture.

With a stick, I poked and prodded until the shell fractured and revealed a huddle of tiny bones – even a skull – all the size and shape of a mouse. That’s when I thought: Raptor. So, I looked directly upward, through the elevator shaft of leafy branches, right in the top “V,” and met a pair of eyes staring at me from the soft beauty of an apple-shaped face.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oh my goodness, it was a barn owl, perched just ten feet from my house.

Was it a temporary visitation or a permanent resident, I wondered. Having raised a variety of birds in my life, I knew instinctively it was a male, and it felt strangely protective. Almost as though he’d arrived by divine decree.

I inspected the ground each morning for a week, found a daily cluster of “bone-balls,” as I called them, and made contact with staring eyes from above. By this time, I knew he was a permanent installation. I also knew he had a name. We locked eyes and I uttered “Oscar.” He telescoped his head slightly farther forward, in approval or recognition it seemed. We connected.

I had wanted no male interruption, but, Oscar was stunningly gorgeous and calm and faithful. He hunted every night and I inspected his catch every morning. By the quality and quantity of his bounty, I knew he was a great hunter. And he was also solitary. So many other owls around town were coupled, but Oscar wanted to be alone in the “V” of this one particular tree, so he could triangulate me.

Potentially eerie, but, his steadfast presence brought such nobility and peace to my life that I relaxed. I accepted him as a holy gift and a mentor. When my heart was especially troubled, I’d stand at the base of the tree and talk with him. I’d ask him to share his wisdom and guidance. He did so faithfully. After every “conversation,” I’d feel an inner tingling; a quiet little voice that whispered an answer.

This amazing relationship continued to grow. Some of my neighbors noticed me talking to a tree and stopped by to inquire. I’d then introduce Oscar, and, invariably, they’d smile and a new conversation would begin. I actually came to meet humans and develop friendships. Gradually, I loosened my grasp on reclusion. I even had men come and work on my property. Oscar scrutinized each one with grave caution. It was a silent battle of testosterone, and I was intrigued by his perceptiveness. The more macho the man, the more distressed Oscar became.

I knew I could trust Oscar’s instincts, so, when I dared myself to enter the dating game, I carefully watched for his assessments.

One man, who parked his truck and camper in my driveway, received a hailstorm of bone-balls on his vehicles. After two dates, Lee and I decided that friendship was our best option for connection. Oscar ceased pelting.

In 2009, I began dating a man who was brawny and manly, yet very sensitive. A strong balance of male and female energy. Oscar nearly lost his balance trying to stretch out far enough to examine Ron. I could tell Oscar was more interested in this man than any male who’d set foot on my property for any purpose. I asked Ron to step over to the tree and meet my feathered friend. He did so with delight, and Oscar was so serene and sweet toward him. He reacted with gentleness every time Ron came by, and they developed a little bromance.

By October 2009, Ron and I had decided to marry. I had to sell my darling cottage, and I was heartbroken to say goodbye to Oscar. I explained the whole situation, gave him directions to our new home, and asked him to join us after the honeymoon. He listened with deep compassion every day, until I finally had to pack my trousseau, and head to Las Vegas for the wedding.

By this time, I felt my bond with Oscar to be unwavering. I was convinced he’d wait for my return and travel the 30 miles to the new house. I picked out a tall aspen tree in the front courtyard that I thought he’d love. It was right next to the house, and surrounded by fifteen acres of hunting ground. He listened intently, seeming to memorize the flight pattern.

Ron and I returned ten days later from our honeymoon, and my heart sank when I scanned the baring tree and was met only with Oscar’s absence. No fresh bone-balls were at the tree’s base. I watched and searched for weeks, but, he never reappeared. Once settled in the new place, I called him from my heart. But our aspen grove remained owl-less.

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

To this day, the mystery of Oscar haunts me with a sweet sadness. I miss his perpetual presence, but, I accept that he fulfilled his divine mission. He coaxed me forth from solitude, and back into the world of dynamic interactions, happiness, and spiritual growth.

He will always be my coach, my confidante, my wisdom-guide, and my messianic miracle.

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