About the artist
Melissa Nelson’s sound of belonging is the chorus of great horned owls in Northern California. (3:04)
Melissa Nelson is a professor of Indigenous Sustainability at ASU and a grassroots leader with a number of Indigenous organizations dedicated to land stewardship, food justice, and the revitalization of biocultural heritage.
In the liminal space between winter and spring and day and night, the great horned owls hoot in the deep woods of Mount Tamalpais. Their syncopated timing is impeccable and sometimes punctuated by a crow, a sparrow, another owl, even the sharp bark of a spotted owl. A rare sound from an endangered species. For some reason, the spotted owl persists in this fragmented second and third growth Redwood Grove on the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Coast Miwok peoples on Mount Tamalpais. It’s ironic they are protected somehow on the edge of the sprawling San Francisco Bay area, sandwiched between commuter freeways and condos and the wild shores of the Pacific Ocean. I think it’s the contrast of the owls’ persistent, urgent, and vibrant calls. And then the deep silence between their hoots that gives me this feeling of home and belonging. The owls sound so deliberate, so certain of their own voice. In the gaps there is this pregnant anticipation. It feels so alive and comforting to me. Their rhythmic calls remind me of now. The mystery of this present moment. Being fully alive. I think these hoots have probably reverberated on this mountain, and in these forested canyons, for centuries. They are truly at home here and remind me that I am too.