I have been rising before dawn lately, and watching the owls returning from their nocturnal labors. This is not something I have seen before and I am amazed and moved. They are swift and gray and silent and huge. They do not see me, I think, but I see them floating through the yard into the cedars and firs to the south. I have heard them at night, calling to each other, but I had never seen them, and the first time I saw one, an hour before dawn, whirring across the yard, enormous and intent and dismissive of me in my bathrobe, gaping, I was awed.
It seems to me that being awed is refreshing. We ought to be awed steadily. I was awed by the steak knives on its feet, by its incredible hearing and eyesight, by its confidence and mastery of a world I will never know in such bloody detail. That such a creature exists at all, in my neighborhood, and lives its mysterious life, singing its ancient songs and thinking its ancient thoughts, is sweet and terrifying and mysterious and lovely. I stand on the porch in the dark and then go inside and make coffee and consider all that which I do not know, which is everything.
We invent religions to package our awe; but a true religion admits that all we really know is awe.
And so amen.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author, most recently, of a novella, Cat’s Foot.