I began this little bugger early last year. I hadn’t planned on creating an owl for 2016 (I had a another critter in mind) but early in the year an owl visited me on a full moon night. I filmed the Great Horned Owl while it sat like a sentinel on top of my beloved tree. Perfect shaped and majestic, the giant Fir tree a picturesque silhouette on starry nights between my bedroom window and the twinkling lights of Livingston below. The tree greeted me each time I drove home to my cabin at the end of the road near the top of this mountain. During the holidays I was always tempted to light it up with a huge star on top for everyone in the valley below to enjoy. We suffered and celebrated more than two decades together. The tree scourged summer after summer by Spruce Bud Worms during the last years.
After a particularly difficult winter for both of us, the tree seemed to bounce back with vigor. That spring it looked better than it had in years and I thought, “We are survivors, you and me, dear tree…we have this…!" Looking back, it is as if the tree rallied for me, knowing I needed a boost and some confidence, I drew strength from its strength.
Then it died.
I hated to ask Cliff to cut it down because Cliff had back and shoulder pain issues; old injuries from his logging days. I complained to Raymond about the negative “Feng Shui” that comes from such a large dead thing in our front yard. But what a perfect perch for a giant owl. The full moon night visit from the owl was poignant. Remarkable. I had a sense it carried a message and thought the message had something to do with my mother - perhaps the owl was letting me know 2016 would be mother’s final year. Raymond asked for Cliff’s assistance to cut the tree down in February as I birthday present surprise while I was in Panama. Of course Cliff made quick business of the tree and landed it perfectly so that it wouldn’t squish any of the young trees sprouting everywhere. Cliff cut the trunk of the tree into perfect rounds which became seats for guests at our wedding. The stumps sit in an Aspen Grove near my studio.
A few months after my return from Panama, Cliff comforted me on the morning I called Hospice for assistance to continue care for my mother in her home. Cliff took mom cookies and then he died on the same day Raymond cut the path in the meadow where Cliff was to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. An owl perched on the tallest tree next to the Yellowstone River when Raymond, Wynn and I launched a home made flotilla with some of Cliff’s ashes in the moonlight.
Again and again I picked up the little lump of “owlish” clay but I simply could not create. On a cold winter night I gave a stranded motorist a ride to his home up Paradise Valley, a giant Great Horned Owl owl flew past my truck window and looked directly at me. Those of you who know Cliff know he was legendary for the assistance he gave friends, family and strangers alike. I knew it was time to finish the little owlet. Emotional but healing, the little sculpture began to find itself while a fire crackled in my studio.
I sent a photo of the clay owl to my girlfriend Wynn. She texted, “OMG. It looks like him. Did u do that intentionally?” Honestly I did not...but I felt so much of Cliff while working on his owl that of course “Cliffness” emanates from the owlet. Crying as I write this, feeling is part of healing topped with gratitude. Not many are gifted with a “Cliff” in their life. He was one-of-a-kind, gentle, strong and damn loyal. The tears are good - the kind of gold that comes from loving and being loved.
Chapter after chapter, critter after critter and plenty of blessings...