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                            Retirement Talk for Boomers, Seniors, and Retirees

Episode 061  My Aumakua/ Totem 

           I was driving on a narrow dirt road in the early morning. Suddenly a large white bird appeared in the headlights. I slowed and followed it through the tunnel of tree branches until it turned off into the dense woods. I had never seen an owl in flight so close and for such a long time while it struggled to stay ahead of my van.

           A week later I sat at a camper’s picnic table reading and watching a chipmunk gather the nuts under a hickory tree. I caught a flash of white in the corner of my eye and heard a sound like a wet towel thrown to the ground in front of me. I looked over to see a large owl recovering from his unsuccessful attack on my chipmunk. He looked me over; decided I was too big to eat and silently thrust himself into the air and was gone.

           A few weeks later I attended a program on “Owl Medicine” by a Native American who said that owls relate to the female side of our nature, right brain we might say. The owl is a secretive and frightening bird, the symbol of silent death. I had not connected my two owl sightings until that moment and they now seemed to me to be a rare coincidence, a synchronicity, perhaps an omen, an emblem, and my totem.


           Before retirement, a common question to a new acquaintance was “What do you do?” Our employment status was our leading identity then but after retiring we want to know the other dimensions of our lives. Animal totems have provided a useful guide for some tribal people. The Chinese have a twelve-year cycle of animals. I was born in the year of the ox, patient, silent, eccentric and restless. In the Zodiac system I am Sagittarius, the Archer, optimistic, free and intellectual.

           But I like the idea of being an owl. Hawaiians have Aumakua; owls are a common family or personal God or protector. They are thought to be wise probably because they are quiet and like to hide out during the day. Their persistent question, “Whoo, Whoo? is unanswerable. Who indeed am I?  I know I am more than the person who went to work each day, more than the father in my family, a member of churches and clubs and classes, an American and an active citizen.


           I am a fan of Buckminster Fuller and I have built several domes. One is called Hale Pueo, Hawaiian for the “House of the Owl.” It is about ten feet in diameter with leaded and stained glass windows. I feel like a bird in a nest there. I like it because no one else in our neighborhood has anything like it. Sometimes a friend joins me there for serious conversation. It has perfect acoustics.

 My Owl encounters were at a turning point in my life. A good friend had died and I had just been divorced after twenty years of marriage. I wondered who I was and what I should do with my life. On my return to my home area, I moved into a dome I had built on a friend’s five acres and I lived there for a year before returning to the city and a more normal existence. I needed more time in the natural world.

           Retirement is the last act in the drama of our life. In a play we reach the denouement, the resolution of the conflicts that existed in the earlier acts. We can write that final act as comedy or tragedy, realistic or absurd. My muse, my Aumakua, is a nocturnal raptor of questionable wisdom but he assures me that it will all end well.

           We can spend the last act of our life in contemplation of our diminishing health and material comforts or we could spend some time in the wilderness trying to connect with the natural world and to discover our place in it. Your aumakua may be trying to contact you at this very minute!

I'm Dick Smith.