Coming back from a long ride, I shouldered into the wind, crouched down in the handlebar drops, eyes and nose streaming, zipped up, head turned. That’s when I glimpsed a pile of feathers over in the ditch. I had to stop, turn around to see what it was.
A beautiful Great Horned Owl was wrapped in her own wings, intact, still, big yellow eyes closed forever. I guessed it had been swept up in the powerful draft of a fast truck not long before. All around, very quiet now. Wind tossing the trees but I didn’t feel it. I told her I was sorry. She must have been out hunting, flying low on silent feathers. What should I do, I wondered. I couldn’t just leave her there. I closed my eyes. What would I want? What a gift to share with kids.
So I unzipped my jacket, lifted her carefully, leaned over, laid her on my back, and zipped the jacket back up. I thought she’d be light, but she was really big, maybe five pounds. Slowly I rode down the shoulder toward home, crying for all of us. But I was warm, her feathers a thick downy layer. I felt like I was flying, like she was carrying me.
I laid her on a blanket on the cool garage floor. Her wingspan was at least four and a half feet. My grandchildren came over but wouldn’t go close, instinctively sensing the powerful difference that death is from life, standing so close together.
I told them that I was going to take the owl out in the foothills to a cottonwood I knew, one by a creek on a curve I often passed. Did they want to come, too? No. That was a definite no. But they helped carry her out to the car in the blanket. I would find a cavity in the old tree, just her size, and lay her to rest.
Great Horned Owl Duet