An Owl in the Woods
(or Thoughts on Turning Fifty)
By: Brad Cole

What comes most to mind was how quiet the woods were in the night. The wind felt almost sweet as I would stand on the trail and strain with every inch in my body to connect to and touch it. Sometimes I would hear the Great Horned Owl that lived there and when I saw it on rare occasions (the wings were so large among the trees) it was such a thrill. This I remember well, looking back at my years of youth, trying to understand what my life has accomplished now that I am turning fifty.

The woods were in the hills behind the college where I was studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Art. For some reason I preferred begin alone during those years; but it was a loneliness that made my mind painfully unhealthy. I grew up seeing nature in such a pure light that I felt people and society were dirty; even now I still have some of those feelings in me.

I worked and studied hard on my drawings and paintings, trying to transform vision into art, spirit into substance, perhaps with only limited success. Everyday I would walk about a mile from my family’s home, in a small town in North Dakota, to the college and back again, perhaps two or three times, putting a lot of miles on my hiking boots. By walking so much I felt my connection with nature would remain strong and build spirit in me. This is how I grew up.

My parents were always in the distant background of my life. Working on my Art classes and the few friends that I had were center of my attention. But I had a deep love for my grandmother, even though she had little presence in my life and died while I was in college. I always felt that her spirit was drawn into nature; that perhaps through nature my love for her would find its connection. While I was young and even now at this age, I find myself needing not so much a wife or a girlfriend, but rather a “spirit mother”. I can do fairly well without women but to try to live without a genuine sense of a caring spirit watching over me, I become crushed and feel horribly lost.

The feeling of abandonment was intense during my years of youth and even now I can feel it sometimes, but not as sharply. Youth can give up hope so easily when they are uncertain of their future. But there were times alone out on the prairie hills near my home when I felt that I belonged there, that God still cared and would not forsake me, no matter how the pages of my life turned.

So what are my accomplishments? Has my life been worth it? I am not a parent, so that is one I can not claim. But there is a love in my heart that has been at the center of my life and it has made me what I am today. I listen to it carefully for it may sometimes contain the voice for God. Because our visions are often weak, we must learn how to listen well to the world in which we live. I feel good about being fifty years old and being close to nature has taught me more than the classes in college. Sometimes, when remembering my youth, I still think of God as being like an owl in the woods.