Owls And Rivers

Owls, in some myths, are the keepers of stories. My sister once had a vision of me surrounded by owls during a period when, due to illness, I couldn’t write. I clung to that vision of hers as if it were mine, as if all those owls promised words would return.

I read a poem today. It grabbed my heart as hard as a poem I once read years ago. Both were about the river, with potent imagery. The one today was by a young woman, Annie, who has never written poetry. The one years ago was by a close friend, Sabrina. What ties these two women together besides poems about the river? Annie is part of the family who just lost Sam to the river. Sabrina is Sam’s mother.

Is. Not was. Always his mother.

Those two poems are stirring inside. I can feel their power, like wind through feathers, like strong wings lifting upwards. Their owls, taking flight, carrying the spirit of their words out over that whitewater. Returning their stories to the river. To float forever with Sam.


For those of you who don’t know Sabrina, she’s a river spirit. She swims the wild river year round. She floats held up by the foam of whitewater. And she once wrote about how the light changes under water when summer turns to fall. How the river changes with the seasons. Until she wrote that, I’d never given any thought to light under water.

Annie’s poem is a tribute to Sam, but also a tribute to Sabrina. She talks about how Sabrina swallowed the river and a drop grew to become Sam. How the river runs through their veins.


Now I sit here thinking of light and water, of rivers that give and take, of rivers that always, always, change the land around us, change the very mountains, change our lives.

Change Is Just Behind the Mountains by Sabrina Grafton

Late summer light comes with more orange mixed in, the mountains that line this valley glow with it early and late in the day with the middle fading through yellow to light blue.

The river’s lost most of the current in our favorite swimming hole, green water is shallower and drifts past without much serious purpose in heading downstream.

Not like late fall water, which is all fattened up with ongoing rain and moves like it really has somewhere to go or the spring flow-runoff mixed with rain that belts towards the mouth, forty miles or so downstream.

Now it’s the slow time, before salmon return and the sprinkling of vine maple leaves that season the water with drifting red flakes.

When the rains move in the river water cools and even if the heat of summer returns for a late few days the river has already turned, readied itself for the next season.

There’s a few days, right at the end of summer when the days move so slowly that time is very nearly stopped and, the truth is, fall is hurtling toward you, unheeded but speeding on just the same.

Poised underwater, eyes open to the greenish cast that surrounds me

I glide silently along, just above the textured river bottom which is dappled in light that exactly reflects the pattern of the waves on the surface above.

Completely at peace

Fall can come

I surface, then quickly return to the green world below

To the bliss that is a perfect day in the river.

Today the wind blew steadily as I took my plunge, just before dark, at our favorite swimming hole.

The town bridge arches over the water like a great, breaching, concrete fish and a deep humming song like Tibetan tones resonated from the cables that stretch to the peak of the arch

Sounds so low that they seemed to come from the river itself

Deep songs of change

Weather’s coming in, the old timers say

I shiver as I dress, content with what I’ve had

But hoping that the mountains will catch the clouds up for one day longer

And give me one more perfect day.


12 thoughts on “Owls And Rivers

  1. Just this morning I was reflecting on the reality of being a mother of three in my newly changed world.
    How loaded the question “how many kids do you have?” now is but I will continue to answer that I am the mother of three.
    Also daughter Nat commented that she doesn’t know whether she will be able to swim in the river again, and I fiercely replied that I will always swim in the river, that Sam loved the river, that I love the river.
    We’ll see how it feels when I once again stand on river’s edge ready to plunge, if instinct will be enough or if my new imagery of his last moments is too much.


    • It is my hope that Sam’s joy in the river will return to you some day but if for a while you must stand on the shore, or let your tears by your river, I’ll stand there with you.


  2. I too, would stand by you at the river. Though I’m more of an ocean girl, my heart will always be by water- salt or fresh. And if you decide to plunge in- I will be there too! ❤️


    • It’s beginning to feel like that first plunge should be symbolic of a return to the river in more ways than just physically getting in the water. And that we should be there with Sabrina.


  3. Lisa, this touched my heart. The owl in the title grabbed my attention (I’m enamored by them and recently saw one in nature up close for the first time) but I reread the post and poem many times. I am so saddened for your friend’s loss, but sharing, writing, reflecting provide profound and helpful ways to cope. I know blogging has helped me deal w/my grief in small ways and I hope Sabrina continues to write. The poem possesses magical imagery and simple reflective moments. Thank you for sharing and for enlightening me about storykeeping owls and rivers.


    • Writing has always allowed me to process, and the imagery of owls holding stories for us is something I find so profound. I remember once hearing this odd sound at twilight by our creek. When we walked down there, here were three baby owls lined up on a branch. They would make their funny baby hoots, and far away you could hear mama answer. We made sure to stay out of the area for them.


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