We made eye contact. I was right at his level. He wasn't afraid of me. I stared at him for a good five minutes. Grey and brown feathers stood out against the green Palo Verde. But he blended with the sand below, already hot from the early morning summer sun. My horse was impatient but compliant, as I stared in awe. I had seen the large barn owls in the hay barn and had heard they had babies. And here we were, face to face. I took out my phone and snapped some pictures.
During lunch at work on Monday, I remembered our encounter and excitedly told my colleagues about it. I pulled out my phone and showed them the photos.
"It was morning? Oh, that's bad. Did it look at you? That means death is coming." My colleague was part Navajo. She told me about the time an owl flew into her mother's windshield, breaking the glass and killing itself. And how her mother had died a week later.
"Look at me? We made eye contact. He was only three feet away. It was amazing!" She just shook her head.
I told my family about the omen. Google confirmed the bad news. Before bed, I accompanied our dogs outside in the back yard. A week earlier our adopted Chihuhua-Pug mix, El Diablo, had been snatched up by a hawk and dropped at height, breaking his ribs and puncturing his lung. He lived. But as we lived along the wash, a corridor for Coyotes, Bobcats and an occasional Mountain Lion, we created a new rule. Dogs must never be unaccompanied.
I stood in the crisp desert air contemplating the expansive, pitch black sky. The dogs were taking longer than I had hoped, as usual. I shivered, and was overcome with the certain sense that I was being watched. I scanned the fence line beyond the pool in front of me, and followed it around the yard. My squinting eyes landed on something sitting on the fence. It was clearly smallish, so I took a few steps forward. Two tiny owls sat side by side, staring right at me. I tried to snap some pics which didn't turn out. I didn't move until the dogs came trotting up from the far corner of the yard, ready to go in. The owls remained on their perch. The dogs and I went inside. I ran to get my family and as we opened the sliding glass door to go out, we heard the swoosh of the pair's wings as they flew off.
The next day after work I picked my daughter up from after-care and we headed to Pier 1 for some chairs. We stopped in our tracks as soon as we entered, my daughter's eyes about to pop out of her head, her hand over her mouth. Owls. Everywhere. We proceeded to walk through the store. At every turn, and every display, there were owl towels, owl statues, and owl trinkets. By the third display, my daughter and I were laughing so hard that we were crying, and I was about to pee my pants. We couldn't even stop laughing long enough to look at the chairs, so we left amid a sea of confused stares from the other customers and the employee at the counter.
I showed up for my tattoo appointment that following Saturday knowing exactly what I wanted. So she quickly sketched up the perfect design and spent the next hour needling it into my forearm. Ten years later, I smile at the reminder. Death is coming. And I never want to forget it. Bring it.