Recently, I came across an injured Great Horned Owl in the grassy area across from our house. I found it under a Eucalyptus tree on a particularly windy day. Best I can figure the poor thing must’ve taken flight and gotten thrown into the tree by a gust of wind.
When I spotted it from a distance, it seemed to be lying on its back, wings jumbled around its chest. I cautiously approached the mighty bird, slowly circling it, hoping—praying—that it was still alive, yet afraid of being attacked by it if I inadvertently startled it. I considered the deathly grip of its mighty talon toes and how they might feel digging deep into my skin, but after a few moments, I also found myself awed by the beauty of the soft, snowy white mantle of feathers that capped those talon toes. Many feathers within the bird’s wings and along its underbelly were snowy white as well. But, its neck was missing… or hidden… or, as it would turn out… backwards… unnaturally backwards for even an owl.
Panicked, I ran to a neighbor’s house seeking help or advice on what to do. Words rushed from my mouth, every bit as jumbled as the owl’s wings. Tears fell from my eyes. I recall my embarrassment. “Why am I crying?” I asked in amazement. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying… “ I told them it most likely wasn’t alive, but I couldn’t be absolutely sure. Who to call? Animal control? Police non-emergency?
We went back over to the eucalyptus tree, four of us now who would collectively evaluate the poor creature’s condition, hoping it was still alive or maybe even hoping it wasn’t. Needless to say, it would have broken our hearts if the poor thing were suffering. But no, it was not suffering. And no, there would be no official entity we could call that could help us. We were too late.
Thankfully, when I located the Great Horned Owl’s face, its eyes were closed. It did not see me seeing it and for that I am grateful because I’m not sure I could’ve looked into those amber eyes of deeper truths only non-humans possess and admit to the great bird that I could not save it. I cried many tears when I realized it was dead, but when doing so I also felt comforted that its death was likely swift. Stepping back, I allowed myself to admire its beauty one last time, even though its spirit had already moved from its body and into the very wind that claimed it.
My neighbor, Bonnie, joined me in a prayer of safe travels for the owl, while her husband and a friend of ours took care of removing the owl’s body from the grassy field. For the rest of the day, I remained somber and sad. I couldn’t help but linger in heavy contemplation over why I’d felt so panicked and so deeply heartbroken over this creature’s passing.
Fact is I’ve never been so close to such a magnificent creature. To come upon one that had so recently died left me feeling helpless. In reality, this owl has been on the mind of many in our community for a long time now. Owners of small dogs have feared this owl on a daily basis, have kept their little dogs on short leashes, have watched the sky while walking them. We were among those people who took steps to protect our little dog from the natural instincts of this Great Horned Owl, from the natural instincts of local coyotes, from the natural instincts of nature itself.
But truth is that our fear of this Great Horned Owl was equaled only by our respect and awe of it. We listened in childish wonderment at night for that lonely hoot punctuating the evening air. We reveled in the owl’s lovely eerie presence, at its wingspan and accompanying whoosh when at rare times we witnessed it slice through the night air with utmost precision and determination. We’d share our stories of sightings, share our curiosity when it disappeared and shared our excitement or disappointment when it returned. It was part of our community and so we miss it now. Because in our community, when one of us dies, all of us are affected.
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