Omen is a short but powerful word, filled with shadow and potent possibility. When I ‘Googled’ the word to see the scope of definitions, it at first appeared to portend only disasters or disturbances. Then, as I read more definitions, omen could also represent a coming miracle or profitable event. In some explanations it was a visible sign, usually in nature, but the ancient Romans believed that a word spoken by chance and perhaps overheard by the gods was an also omen.
Omen only means something if one is observational and superstitious. I am not generally superstitious because that means giving away power to something else, which I am not willing to do. Yet, I do try to be more observant of life’s energies around me. I try to take some time to focus on being in the moment as I rush from task to task during my work days and days off. I try to consciously tune into my instinctual ear and eye to prevent the smothering by artificial noise and visual demands of life. My husband is a much better observer of his surroundings than I am. I actually think that being in the woods and hunting and fishing have honed this skill in him. He is quicker to react to an emergency or pre-emergency sign and thinks more clearly than I. Like a chess player he will see the three moves ahead while I am still trying to assimilate the here and now. Therefore, while it may or may not be an omen, he is the first to see, evaluate and take action if needed.
Two events that I have seen recently have been bouncing around in my head, and that is what brought me to thinking about omens. When we started building on our property on the river for our retirement home, within a year, a large and lovely oak tree that sheltered our dock near the water’s edge, died. It was lovely and healthy and except for a very large burl at its base, there was no sign of stress. It died in September even before it could put on the lovely colored cloak of semi-death that appears in the fall. When I studied the tree after its death, I saw signs of termites all around the base of the trunk. So the process had been ongoing. I have been told that an oak burl, if harvested, is very valuable for furniture and woodworking. Thus, there is beauty somewhere in this death. This oak was much older than I, yet too young to die. It had seen many mornings, days, and nights on this land. It had fed and sheltered the wildlife and provided a place for children to climb and view the water. Did it die because of grief when we bulldozed its brothers and sisters? Was it our noise and chatter which we added to a formerly quieter place? Is it an omen? What does it mean? Maybe it was just its time, but why can’t I get it out of my head?
A second series of events has also been tickling my brain. When we traveled to Hawaii this past winter, the first to greet us on our hotel deck was a lovely red cardinal. He studied us carefully each day. I assumed that tourists had fed the birds and he was just checking out a possible pantry raid. When we arrived at Hilton Head last month, the very first thing I saw as I looked out across the balcony patio was a scarlet cardinal in the top of the tree looking back at me. There is nothing really unusual here, because cardinals are pretty common birds. Finally, last week when we were talking in our empty garage at the new house, a cardinal landed on the ground and peeked under the half open garage door. He saw us, but didn’t fly away. He did a little dance back and forth and then would look up at us and cock his head. It really seemed as though he was welcoming us to the woods. My husband and I knew he was trying to communicate in some way. His behavior wasn’t really that of a wild bird. But, then again, maybe he was checking out a possible new pantry and he wasn’t all that wild.