On Monday, we made birds out of clay and set them out under an isolated tree on the mesa. Mostly, it was just a fun project, a chance to get our hands dirty and a cause for a walk, but we took the opportunity to acknowledge the familiar birds that would soon be leaving for winter - vultures, swallows, ducks, etc. Our figures, we said, would be a reminder to us throughout the winter and a beacon of strength to the birds as they traveled long distances to their winter homes.
Wednesday, we returned to see if anything had happened. The clay had hardened in the sun and while some had been knocked about, by and large everything was as we had left it. The kids had fun searching for their creations, then we moved on.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Happy Canyon for lunch. On Monday, we had been inconvenienced by a sisterhood of red ants under our usual tree, so when we arrived I sent one of my students off to scout a new location. A few minutes later, I heard shouts.
"An owl! There's an owl!"
We jumped up and watched as the bird, a great horned owl, flew right between our heads, then circled in a tight arc and landed back in the tree.
"Wow!" we all shouted. We tried to remain respectfully quiet but we were unable to contain our excitement. Almost instantly, the owl took off again, circled us, and landed in a second tree. It circled us one more time - three times in all - then landed peacefully back in the first tree.
"We shouldn't be over there," one of my students said, shaking her head and waving her hands at us, "it likes that tree."
"I agree," I answered, walking backwards. My heart was so touched by how tenderly she cared for this owl's breathing space. We settled for a different spot, taking our lunches out as we kept an eye on roaming ants. A few minutes later, we saw the owl take flight again, circle one last time, and fly off.
"Wow," I whispered.
While we were eating lunch, one of the kids piped up, "Silke always says that if you see an owl in the daytime you get to ask it a question."
"You're right," I answered.
"But I couldn't remember in time," she continued.
"Well, if the owl was here, what would you ask?"
She thought for a second, then said, "Where did the first human come from?"
I frowned thoughtfully, impressed with the depth of the question.
Another child pointed to the sky and said, "I want to know about space."
"Good questions," I said.
We ate the rest of our lunch in silence. At rest time, I used the opportunity to tell a story about an owl who spreads magic wings of protection around the children of the earth.