rejoice that there are owls

Melissa Hart discovers service and compassion with a snowy owl

amber alberecht

Excerpt from original article:

Dropping small pieces of chicken into a box strapped around my waist, I pull on a leather glove and walk down a gravel path toward an enormous wood and wire enclosure in the Cascades Raptor Center. From his mossy stump, Archimedes lifts his round white head in anticipation. I open the door, and he spreads five-foot wings to ascend from his perch, chirping a welcome.

I offer him a bit of chicken. He takes it in his sharp black beak and steps onto my gloved wrist. I take him outside, and in the peace of early evening, as the sun gilds the trees and wild owls begin to call around us, he leans into my hand and softly chortles. Scratching behind his ears, I tease the tiny feathers around his beak. His eyes close and my heart opens, as it does each evening, to this eight-year-old snowy owl.

A year ago, I gave up formal meditation and yoga classes to spend an hour each evening with Archimedes, in what quickly became an unexpected practice. If someone had told me that training a snowy owl could represent a path of service, I would have dismissed it. But I learned a surprise lesson in compassion and equanimity.

As I attempted to understand my feelings for this owl, I came across the writings of yogi and animal rights activist Sharon Gannon, who with her partner, David Life, has created a 76-acre wildlife sanctuary in upstate New York.

“We bought the land to preserve it so that the wild animals, including black bears, deer, foxes and raccoons, could continue to have a safe place to live,” she writes in her new book Yoga and Vegetarianism (Mandala, 2008). “As yogis, our ultimate goal is enlightenment, which involves realizing the oneness and interconnectedness of all beings and things — not just human beings. Extending compassion toward animals purifies our karmas, creating an internal state of being conducive to en-

I wasn’t looking for enlightenment when I moved to Eugene, Oregon and fell in love with a man who volunteered as an educator and caregiver for injured birds of prey at the local raptor centre. Hoping to impress him, I signed up for a weekly shift and cleaned cages. With envy, I watched other volunteers striding around the grounds with hawks, falcons and owls on their gloves, but a fear of talons prevented me from learning to handle raptors.

Then Archimedes arrived. His previous owner — a falconer who named him after the ancient Greek mathematician and raised him to hunt rabbits — had passed away. The bird glowed bright white in his enclosure, and I was mesmerized...

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