Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great Horned Owl

   I was following Joni on the way home from the hike, and she unexpectedly pulled over, telling me that she thought she had seen a owl on the side of the road. So we turned back and pulled safely over to the side of Highway 45, got out and crossed the street. From a distance I could see the telltale "horns" sticking up from the dead grasses. The owl flopped around, flailing its wings clumsily and tried to escape. The poor thing. As Joni noted, its wing bent the wrong direction—a serious, compound fracture. I took these photos from my lousy Blackberry-cam, which struggles in low light:
And Joni got this one with her camera:
   The owl glared at us as we stood there and marveled at its stunning, barred feathers, fuzzy "horns" and clear, brilliant eyes. It blinked slowly and softly, and I couldn't get over how much it looked like a cat—it really reminded me of Atom! Its talons were surprisingly large for the size of the bird, and looked fuzzy. Joni said these guys are called "the tiger of the sky" due to their ferocity. It was quieter now; perhaps because it realized we weren't there to eat it. The larger question was, were we there to rescue it?
   We debated for a few minutes. We'd have to safely catch it and get it into Joni's dog crate, keep it alive overnight, then deliver it to OWL (Operation Wildlife) tomorrow. Would it even make it that long? One eye now opened wider than the other, and the owl's life seemed to be draining away.
   Ultimately it was Joni's realization that convinced us to leave it where it was, so that nature could take its course. It would probably be eaten by a coyote. But the alternative—due to the severely broken wing—would be a life in captivity, at best. And that didn't seem to suit this noble, beautiful, and thoroughly wild creature. It wasn't an easy decision, given the extent to which both Joni and I are animal lovers. But it was the right one.
   I followed her home, and we both independently enjoyed the quiet contemplation of the harsh reality of nature, accompanied by a strikingly gorgeous sunset.