After reading a bunch of Hopi prophecies it is easy to get freaked out. They are farmers and artists and made some of the most beautiful pottery, baskets and fethishes in Native American culture. They were also right next to the Navajo and the Apache peoples in the Southwest. Reading the natural history of animals in America is always about who wrote it. White people write the facts, just the facts. ma’am, where Latino and Indian peoples write the poetic histories.
Eduardo Galeano‘s Genesis; Memory of Fire starts with the first day of creation and moves forward in metaphor to the earth, the Sun, the water, the birds and on and on. Native peoples ascribed the power of “the Almighty” to the Sun and to them, the idea of a god was nature. They were not monotheistic (there were many spirits) but nature fulfilled the role that god did in other cultures.
Owls mean many things to Indian peoples; good and bad. The Navajo think them an omen of death, the Hopi think them as protectors of the dead and their burial grounds.
In Italy, the barn owl is said to possess the malocchio or, “the evil eye” (or as my paisan friends used to call it, “the shit-eye”) when you eyeball somebody with malice in your heart (and who doesn’t enjoy that once in a while?).
The ocular peculiarities of owls are what provoke the visceral in people. The large and luminous eyes that seem to be all-seeing. It is kind of what I’ve always loved about drawing them; there are no other creatures like them.
I once issued a fairly thorough ass-kicking over the spotted owl. There was a big debate over their habitat in the Pacific northwest around 20 years ago and I was tending bar in Villa Park, Illinois and one of the assholes at the bar started bitching about “all this fuss over a fucking owl, that is supposed to be extinct.” The TV news had just done a report on the near extinction of this owl. He went on about how some species were “just supposed to disappear from existence, it is natural– it’s what god wants.” So I said, “Why don’t you leave?” He just looked at me and I said, “Maybe god wants assholes to be extinct too. Maybe you should follow the spotted owl off this mortal coil.” And that was it. Me and Tommy Crough went round and round and Tommy lost. He was a dick who worked for the phone company and used to get his ass beat at Brennan’s Pub about once every 10 days. Card-carrying pacifists would kick the shit out of Tommy Crough; he was that annoying. He was the guy who would grab women’s asses, snort coke in the john, and worst of all, root against the Sox, loudly, on Sunday afternoon. Everybody beat this fucker up and everyone was well within their right to. When the cops would be called after someone would assault Tommy, more often than no, the cops would smack Tommy as well.
My guess is owls will outlast all of us; which is as it should be.