As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to go whale watching. I think that if I was lucky enough to encounter a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean just a few feet away, those fleeting, thrilling moments would last a lifetime.

We often go through a lot of effort and expense to have a great experience that lasts a short time but remains forever in our mind’s eye. We wait in line for 45 minutes for a 2 minute ride at the amusement park. We travel halfway around the world to see with our own eyes a historical landmark or a natural wonder.

And sometimes, very rarely, these moments come to you. I had a landlocked version of the whale experience many years ago, and I still think of it surprisingly often.

When I went to college in a small Southern town, I rode a motorcycle (a beloved vintage ’73 Honda CB350) everywhere I went and for a short time lived on a farm 25 miles out of town. It was literally an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods commute.

Riding home late one perfect Autumn evening, I was heading out of a wooded area into open land. Even with the din of the motor and with my helmet on, I heard a loud, crazy screeching sound. For some reason I glanced up and what I saw was the white underbelly of a massive Barn Owl just a foot or two above my head. Its impressive wingspan fanned over me, at the same speed I was traveling, and I swear I also heard the whoosh of its wings. I don’t know if it dove down to fly above me or if it noticed me at all, but I felt like a mere mortal in the presence of a higher being. It was an absolutely magical moment, and it lasted probably four seconds. Then, as quickly as it made itself known, the owl disappeared into the night.

This experience was perhaps more modest in scale to a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean, but it was equally transforming. And I remember it as one of the best moments of my life.

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