Edgemont, South Dakota, United States

A Hint of Direction

Winter, 1976. It was right about here. I leaned into the wind, trying not to stumble as I moved forward and at times, trying not to be blown backwards. It was hard to look straight ahead through the blowing snow. I was wearing snowmobile goggles with yellow lenses. I kept adjusting them up and down in an effort to see anything. Everything was white. At my feet, I could see stems of grass protruding from the drifts of snow, but that was the only indication that I was still in this world.

I had been walking for what seemed like a long time and felt I should have reached the shack by now. The sheep shack, a small, two-room building that was itself painted white and it crossed my mind that I might crash into it before I could see it. I believed as long as I kept moving into the wind, veering slightly to my right, I would find my way. Or, at least, I would find the road beyond the shack. Or, the bar ditch that ran parallel to the road. And, if I somehow got past all that, I would eventually run into the fence next to the horse barn. 
I knew where everything was located, there was just no sign of it. Nothing but the dead grass being covered by the snow.

And then, it was there. An owl. A great horned owl hunkered down next to a small snowdrift where the ground was bare, swept clean by the wind. It was looking at me. Its eyes blinked once and then again, and it was gone. It flew in an easterly direction. I say "it flew" but it was more like it just vanished into the white of the blowing snow. It disappeared.

I spent a few moments looking for it, then began moving in the direction it went. After just a few steps, I was there-- at the backside of the sheep shack. I found my way around to the front and went inside. I made coffee, filled the thermos, grabbed the extra heat lamps and went back outside to return to the larger building where about six hundred ewes were bringing newborn lambs into the world. All the while, thinking about the owl.

I often think about that owl, especially at certain times of the year like when it snows, or I hear the barred owls behind my house in the evening. I'm thinking of it now, and the direction it went, and the way I followed.

A Hint of Direction