If bugs – flying, buzzing, unpredictable insects – have never given you the heebie-jeebies, then you might be surprised how many things a person with entomophobia will avoid. That’s the term for bug phobia. Reportedly, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will fix it. Good luck with that. I had entomophobia for most of my life until last spring in February, two months before I turned sixty. How that miracle happened is a story for a different time, but it definitely wasn’t CBT. I mention it here because on this particular day last summer, I swam in my pool for the first time at night. I was no longer worried about the beetles, June bugs, and Richardson tree roaches dive-bombing into the water around me and swirling like synchronized swimmers. I just scooped them up and put them on the side of the pool, like a normal person.
No more entomophobia meant that I could invite friends during the week, to hang out in my pool after work. I bought these great things called ‘Pool Saddles’ – foam squares you straddle to relax in the water. And I bought these ‘water shoes’ in various sizes because the pool’s pebble tech surface had gone rough like a giant pumice stone and needed to be replaced. So this is how I found myself, on a Monday night around 8:45pm with one of my BFFs. (You wouldn’t invite just anybody to swim when you have to offer them SHOES before they get in the water.)
My friend and I were halfway into a fairly loud conversation, bobbing up and down in the middle of the pool, when she whispered, “Laura, turn around very slowly.” Behind me, I expected to see the beachfront area we’d used to enter the pool, and the vintage child-sized metal rocking chair, painted bright aqua blue. But I never expected to see a small owl, about eight inches tall, perched on the back of the chair just a few feet away. With the sun almost down and the criss-cross of patio lights shining brightly behind him, a thin halo outlined his fuzzy silhouette. His head cocked to one side as if waiting for an answer to a question.
For a time, the three of us just stared at each other.
“What is he doing?” I kept asking.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Screech Owls and wasn’t sure if he came in peace. His stillness unnerved me. My friend and I decided to give him some space and scooted to the opposite end of the pool, bobbing along slowly, constrained by the buoyant Pool Saddles. Within a few minutes, the little guy hopped from the blue chair and stood on the stone coping at the edge of the water. As we watched to see what would happen next, the owl seemed frozen, like the concrete rabbit on the deck nearby.
“What is going on? Do you believe this?” I was incredulous.
My wise friend took it all in stride. “Owls are considered sacred in Native American culture, and thought to bring messages.”
We offered each other ideas about what this guy might be trying to say, as it stared. Time inched along until his next hop, which landed the tiny creature in the three inches of beachfront water. He dunked himself - a splash bath – several times, somehow in complete silence.
“He trusts us,” I said.
“I know, right?” my friend replied.
We marveled at how this creature, about the size of my foot, appeared to have zero fear.
In unison, she and I laughed, “Because we can be trusted!”
It was then my friend saw the other two owls. One hid in the shadows of the garden pergola trellis and one seemed to watch the scene unfold from a vantage point on the roof. One at a time, they each came to rest atop the blue chair, then hop onto the pool’s coping and into the water for a quick bath. Meanwhile, the first owl flew to perch on a chandelier dangling from the elm tree above us. I’d handmade three of these for my birthday party earlier in the spring and felt glad I hadn’t taken them down.
Once all three owls had finished their baths, they took off in a blur, circling the side of the house to start the rest of their day. My friend told me that she’d said a silent prayer of gratitude to the owls and I wished I’d thought to do that. We both felt we’d witnessed something sacred in that thirty five minute space between dusk and nightfall. And the trust bestowed upon us impacted me. The knowledge that I was deemed trustworthy by such small adorable creatures equated to a greater truth: I could trust MYSELF.
I told a number of people, including my husband, afterwards and no one had heard of this happening before. Several suggested I try again the next night and use my phone to get a video. But I doubted I would ever see such a thing again in my lifetime and apparently my husband agreed because the next night he didn’t want to give up what he was doing to find out. I slipped into the pool after work around 8:30 and waited to see if anything would happen. In a few short minutes the owls arrived. This night there was a total of five. They followed the same pattern of taking turns in the water, patiently waiting on the roof, the patio, the pergola. The little blue chair was like the runway before take-off, with never more than two at a time perched upon it. This night I remembered to whisper a word of thanks to them. Thanks for reminding me to show up in this world as a safe, trustworthy person. Thanks for reminding me that it’s okay to trust others. And for reminding me that no matter what happens at any time in my life, I can count on myself to manage it. Trusting ourselves builds the foundation of a courageous life. When I know I can trust myself, I know I’ll be okay no matter what. Trusting myself means I am free: Free to love, free to dare, free to discern what makes me happy.
Over the next week, each evening at dusk, the owls came. I watched them as I bobbed around in the pool, taking in their message and quietly thanking them. I invited other friends to join, not knowing each night if this would be an evening with or without owls. I stopped feeling ashamed to offer pool shoes or be seen in my swimsuit. I wanted all of my friends and loved ones to have the felt experience of “I can be trusted”. And the owls, they did not disappoint.
A storm blew in on Saturday afternoon and it rained for several days. I led my first 3 Day Intensive at a nearby hotel and when I returned home, there were no more owl sightings. I knew the owl experience would eventually come to an end, and although I felt sad when it did, I was grateful for the gift they had given. It’s time to trust myself.