An Owl Remorse - Forgivness

         Story by Dan Abernathy - Photography by Arnie Brokling

Growing up in the era and location that I did, I wasn’t doing anything that any other rural boy wouldn’t do. I was eleven or twelve years old and most weekends would find me exploring the foothills behind my parent’s house, wearing a small knapsack on my back and carrying an old bolt-action 22 rifle in my hand. The mission … rabbits; the reason was to be in the wilds of nature. I would shoot a few rabbits, but hunting was really secondary. Being alone in the woods, this was the adventure.


   Walking back home in the dusk of the evening, something happened that would impact me for the rest of my life. I remember coming out of the hills to the hay fields that were adjacent to home and supper. I leaned my rifle against a fencepost and with care, I crawled through the barbed wire, careful not to catch my pants, as my mother had warned me often. Mom was tired of patching my jeans with three corner rips in them.

As I got through the fence and stood up, I saw a Great Gray Owl sitting on the limb of an old dead tree, just down the fence line. I stood and looked at him for awhile and I really don’t remember what thought waves were passing through my mind, or why, but the next thing I knew, the cool hardwood stock was touching my cheek. The crack of the bullet and the puff of chest feathers all happened at the same time. The owl did nothing but look at me as I chambered another round, then another. In disbelief, I dropped my arms holding the rifle lose in my hands, feeling nothing but shame, which was then followed by the fear of how my father would react.


     With no sound, the owl lifted off of the limb and flew over the top of my head just feet above me. Its sharp piercing eyes stared down at me, right through me, and into the very person I was. I stood in disbelief of what I had just done. The walk home was a very long one and the joys of being outdoors were lost, nowhere to be found. All that was scorching my

thoughts was the realism of the owl flying off to die because of me. Out of shame, I never told anyone of what I had done and though I still spent a lot of time in the foothills behind my parent’s home, I did so without the old bolt action 22 rifle.
   The expression of that owl stayed with me for years and, to this day, it is still here looking into my soul. It’s not that I never picked up a gun again as I grew up hunting for meat, trapping muskrats for spending money and even working for outfitters and guiding hunters. I never enjoyed killing any animal. It was part of what I did, but any kill always filled me with remorse. The last time I had a wild animal in my crosshairs, I was overtaken with its beauty, and once again, I dropped my arms holding the rifle in my lose hands as the decision arrived to never hunt again.
     Years later, as I was taking courses to become a Reiki Master, I was involved in a guided meditation that helped me on a voyage towards the true person I am today. As I was deep into a meditative consciousness, the old owl I had shot returned and looked straight into my soul. As fear started to boil within, I understood that the owl had come to forgive me. It wiped the slate clean of the awful thing I had done in my youth. As my heart lifted, the owl was gone and I came back to the reality of the moment, feeling an air of amazing wonderment surrounding me.
   To this day the owl spirit is with me. I have had numerous encounters with this totem, or animal spirit I have accepted to be with me. Each time I humbly and quietly acknowledge what is happening with its manifestation. Each time I feel gratitude for this life lesson. The lesson delivered from a Great Gray Owl, which gave its life to gift me with the power of forgiveness.