I had been having many "encounters" with hawks and owls for awhile, probably very average kinds of contact, but these seemed of special import to me. While I was walking or running in the hills or elsewhere, I would sense something, look up and find an owl hovering just above me (at least once then to witness the owl alight next to me on a ledge and copulate with its mate).
In the mid 1980's I was at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming on a residency, and these encounters were continuing there. One night after dinner as I was in my studio painting, a violent thunderstorm swept in off the slope of the nearby mountains. Lightening was striking everywhere, traveling horizontally inches above the ground. The power in the studio, which was in a converted barn, had been knocked out, so after several hours of sitting in the dark I decided I would try to return to the converted school house that was our residence (not a wise decision had I great concern for my own well being). The schoolhouse was a quarter-mile distant across pasture, rough ground, with livestock grazing, including several large bulls (separated from each other by fence line). Crossing this pasture in the dark night with the violent storm raging was out of the question, so I resolved to run the long driveway and county road instead-- a mile long journey, but I had been running a lot, and knew I could cover the ground quickly. Perhaps unwisely, but perhaps also with a fatalism that was not unknown to me, I took off.
The corn in the fields all around had been recently harvested; so surrounding me was only the remaining stubble. I was the tallest thing about, less than ideal conditions for a mad dash through a lightening storm. As I ran I stopped at each cattle guard and waited for a lightening strike so I could see the bars and pick my way across.
Soon I rounded the corner of the schoolhouse, which stood in a grove of cottonwood trees. As I did I sensed a presence nearby. I looked slightly up to my left, and when lightening next struck I saw a great horned owl gliding along next to me just above my shoulder. This bird flew with me until I neared the door of the house. Probably affected by the storm it was simply checking me out, but to me this bird had seen me safely home.
I resolved then somehow to get involved more with these birds. Upon returning to the Bay Area I began working with the study of the hawk migration in California.