He sold black, ceramic owls. They were eighty dollars apiece and one could’ve fit in my palm (I didn’t try). His booth was tucked between a t-shirt souvenir shop and the street corner where a tan man in a fedora rasped out tunes on wood flutes.
Dad and I stopped to have a look, and the potter scooted to the edge of his stool. His spiel was fast— memorized. His glasses were tinted by the Santa Fe sun. His dentures weren’t white anymore. I smiled and he smiled back, black eyes shifting from Dad to me.
“They call me Cloud Mountain.” He pointed to one of the owls with a finger bent like an L. “This is my spirit animal. This is what I write about in my book.”
We leaned in and leafed through the pages.
“How long have you been writing?” I asked.
Wrinkles ran around his lips. “As long as I can remember. Maybe since I was eight years old and the owl first came to me as my spirit creature. I have written much about the owl. I love to write.”
My eyebrows went up. “So do I.”
“Sometimes, I go up to the mountains at night. I go at dark to respect the owl. You see?” He opened the book and pointed to a photo of a bonfire burning on the dark side of a mountain.
“The owl, he speaks to me. Nature speaks, you know?”
We’d driven for two days across prairies under summer skies. We’d watched the breeze comb the corn. We’d stopped to scramble down a Texas canyon— baby brother to the Grand itself. We’d watched the landscape molt and rise and erupt into mesas, then mountains.
We nodded “yes” to the street vendor with black bangs stuck to his forehead.
“Walk from here to the plaza around the corner and you will hear nature speaking— feel it breathing.” He looked past the stucco eaves, toward the sky. “But not all have eyes to see. We must have eyes to see.”
We stood silent a moment before Dad nudged the conversation. “So these things you believe— where do they come from? What is their source?”
I ran my eyes over the owls again, then up to Cloud Mountain’s face creases.
“Well, the Sky People—they go by many names—are above all.”
How many night skies had those black eyes roamed? How many moons had waxed and waned before them? How long had he looked? How much had he seen?
More than I.
Cloud Mountain used his knotted fingers to mold and paint owls, because his spirit belonged to something he’d seen. I use my fingers to mold and paint words, because my spirit belongs to Something I can’t.
It’s something beyond my fingertips and eyesight and the words on my page. Something beyond the sky.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
I wished my eyes were trained like Cloud Mountain’s, but not so I could melt into nature and bow to the stars.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Heb. 11:3).
We spent twenty minutes with him. For fifteen, we listened. For five, we questioned, commented, complimented. And then we turned back toward the hot street and I tried to sweep up my eternal hope into a handheld bouquet—a quick benediction:
“God bless you.”
My heart said more.
For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… As it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb. 11:14, 16).
Something is coming, Cloud Mountain.
Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Rev. 1:7).
Someone is returning to rend the clouds and burn the mountains and then make all things beautifully, eternally new. We’ll bask in the gloriousness of it all. We’ll have eyes to see.
For in this hope we were saved .
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Rom 8:24-25).
He nodded “goodbye” and started from the beginning with a new set of tourists. I can see him peering past them, toward the sky.
“But not all have eyes to see. We must have eyes to see.”