The Owls at Dawn

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.


  1. Hi Brian,
    You have a beautiful way with words. I find God speaks in so many ways. To me it is through experiences with birds. I am a liscensed wildlife rehabilitator on CT. I specialize in raptors and find myself in a constant state of awe. I have been handling these birds for about fifteen years and everytime is as exciting as the first. I’ve said it is like a honeymoon that never ends. We are about to recieve a second non-releasable Barn owl. We use many of the permanently handycapped for educational presentations. Oh the thrill of having one stand on your gloved hand and feeling their warm breath on your face.

  2. and a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels…

  3. I look to sky to be awed on a daily basis. I’m amazed at the wonder of the world that soars above us, as though we aren’t even here. I couldn’t agree with you more that we need to be awed everyday…and I strive for that. People think I’m a little weird, but I would have to bank on the fact that I am more at peace then they will ever be. ;0) I agree with another comment that this was beautifully written. thank you for sharing.

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