What the White Owl Knew
Strange things happen when you stay up all night. I first discovered this at the age of nine, when my friend Rita and I played Monopoly all night and sneaked down the stairs and went outside to see the sun come up. It was strange to hear traffic start out on the highway two blocks away, to see the milkman begin his rounds, to see the sky turn from black to gray to pink to a bleeding gold.
Sixty-two years later, I have just had a similar experience. After a sleepless night, just as I was ready to fall asleep, I experienced leg cramps along with a difficulty in breathing that I’ve tended to have lately. It is not exactly that I can’t breathe, but a feeling that perhaps soon I won’t be able to. These two factors drove me outside and into the pool which, although it had been too hot to swim in at midnight, now had cooled to a lukewarm temperature above body temperature, but barely. (My pool is filled every other day with water from very hot mineral springs.)
Not feeling like doing my regular exercises, I floated and swam a bit, but very soon noticed a very large light just above the horizon. At first I thought it was another in a series of recent wildfires lifting its head over the mountain. It was a large glowing shape much bigger than the moon. I had looked at my alarm clock as I rose from my bed, and at 5 a.m., surely the moon wouldn’t just be rising. It was clouded like a fire obscured by smoke, and for a good five or ten minutes, I was sure this was what it must be, but as it rose higher over the neighbor’s house, I realized that it was something in the sky. It was roughly oval in shape, with the points of the oval pointing up and down, not side-to-side.
As it rose higher in the sky it grew larger but stayed indistinct—like a large fuzzy, uneven-sided bright oval larger than the sun and somewhat fuzzied and diluted by clouds. It had an otherworldly effect and as the stars came out above it, it seemed in stark contrast to the clear silhouettes of the palm trees further to the West. Did the moon ever rise at 5 a.m.? Surely not. The moon rose at night and set in the morning as the sun rose. Could this be the sun rising at 5 a.m.? If so, there were no colors of sunrise flooding the sky around it.
Much too big for a plane, what sort of phenomenon could it be? The very early morning darkness gave no other hint of the day to come. I floated in a surreal eeriness, tempted to go in to look up moonrise and moonset times, but some superstition and need to see what happened next kept me floating in the warm soup of my pool. Suddenly, something large lifted into the sky above the neighbor’s house and flew directly in front of the glowing object in the sky to swoop over the pool and then barely clear the roof of my house in a swift arc. At first stunned by what seemed to be part of the eerie situation of the light in the sky, I soon realized that It was a large white owl–one my friend Patty had seen twice years ago but which I had never seen in the eighteen years I’ve been living in this house.
I floated, stirring arms and legs as though flying myself, completely mesmerized by what seemed like magic. Who would believe it? All-in-all, I remained in the pool for a half hour, watching the eerie light as it rose almost imperceptibly higher. Its shape was nebulous, as though hidden behind thick clouds, at times growing more pointed, like a vague quarter moon with its tips pointing to the right and a bit tilted to the left.
Until finally, without ever rising 1/16th of the way across the sky, within seconds it vanished. One second it was there, the next gone.
Was it thick clouds that had obscured it that quickly? Only the evening before, I had found my waterproof camera and looked in vain for its battery. If I had located it, I could have taken a photo of the phenomenon. With the light gone and the water cooling, I groped my way up the steps from the pool and into my bedroom, where I dried off, slipped into my nightgown and picked up the laptop I’d abandoned in bed.
“Moonrise and Moonset for Ajijic, Mexico” I typed into the browser and was quickly presented with the following information:
Moonrise, 3:29 a.m., Moonset, 3:33 p.m. How could I have not known that the moon sometimes rises and sets in the daytime? By the 31st of the month it will rise at 5:17 a.m.! I then remember having seen the moon in the sky long after the sun has risen, but somehow what my eyes have seen has not been seized by my mind!
It now occurs to me that I can take my regular camera out to see if there is anything to see. I do so, looking up at the totally dark sky. The first birds have begun their twittering even though no light other than a few stars prompts their songs. I see one wispy cloud in the pitch black sky, a bit higher than the light I had seen a half hour before. And then I see a brief glow which vanishes before I can snap a photo.
Then another dim glow. It has to be the moon emerging now and then from behind clouds. I snap photo after photo but nothing shows up in the frames I check. Then suddenly, one more chance. I snap the shutter, click to see what I have captured.
It is not much, but it has at last assumed a vague moon size and shape and at least it is faint proof of my last hour’s adventure.
The first church bells of the morning peal out. When I return to my room, It is 6 a.m. by my bedside clock.
I look again at the screenshots I’ve made from the moonrise/moonset site.
What the white owl has probably always know I have learned for the first time tonight.