Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Great Horned Owl Debacle

Yesterday brought a new parenting challenge for me. A situation that tested my resolve in God's Word. Not in a life altering way. But aren't all temptations soul altering.

The story...

Washing dishes, I glance up to notice a promising shape perched in the oak behind our house. Birds of prey enrapture me, and this shape looks very owlish, the most fascinating of the group. I grab my camera and sneak out the door, stalking my way around puddles and into the fort to catch a difficult picture with the light behind him. He watches me through half opened yellow eyes. A squirrel sits paralyzed {except for the occasional sign of the cross as he prepares to meet his maker}.
The stirring silhouette

After observing the owl quietly sitting, I remember Gwennan. She's supposed to be napping, but I've heard her quietly interviewing the walls. I sneak back inside and signal to her to follow me in stealth mode. Outside, we stand together observing and quietly discussing owls {something this sacred produced a real whisper in Gwennan}.

Then without warning, the owl's great head bobbed and dipped. He lost his balance, and with a vain attempt to right himself, withered and fell from the tree with barely a glide to the ground. Did you see that?!!! Gwennan and I exchanged shocked looks.

Mommy, Why did he do that?? Where is he??

Thus began the quick scramble for rain boots, the wade through ankle deep water to the back fence and the team climb up the compost bin to peak over the extra tall privacy fence. There was the owl, sitting on the ground, trying to maintain his dignity. His eyes half closed in that all-wise pondering position.

I finished the lectures on birds of prey, but I left school a couple of days before the rapture lab. I have no experience handling large birds with talons and sharp beaks. Especially when they fall on someone else's property.

So I called parks and rec. They required permission from the home owner, our neighbor who I've never seen. The best I could offer was to walk over and ring the bell after Afton and Carrick woke up.

We waited the 30 minutes or so for nap time to finish and everyone to complete their wake up process {Afton sprang out of bed upon learning that we were going to rescue an owl with the ranger doctor - I'm surprised neither of the girls thought to ask for the vet kit}. Before tying Carrick on and pulling out the scooters and helmets, I figured I'd check on the bird. No sense disturbing the neighbors or pulling out all the gear if the owl had flown away. I peak over the fence to discover one very dead owl, head thrown back at a spectral angle.

Now you know my dilemma... What do I tell two very excited children? The truth, that the owl died, then field questions all day about how the owl died or tears over the dead animal or worse, demands to see the dead owl. Or do I tell the smallest of lies, that the owl flew away. No one will be any wiser. No questions. No scooter voyage. And no dead owl to inspect.

You can land where you will on this one.

I chose to tell them the truth.

It seemed simpler in the long run. When do I start telling them the truth if I start with lies now? Where is the line between shielding and reality? It was too blurry for me. Best not to be attempted.

Upon hearing the news, my two junior pathologists insisted they see the evidence that the owl was dead. Mommy could have missed some important sign of life. Amidst vision of nightmares and sleepless nights, we perched on the compost bin again and peered down at the specimen. Both specialists agreed with my original assessment: that was a very dead owl. Still beautiful with his barred feathers, but certainly deceased. They bowed their heads for one solemn moment.

Mommy, why did he die?

I guess he was old and sick.

Oh, like your red grandmother?



A minute later they were splashing through the small ponds in our yard, looking for treasures in the muddy water. The owl banished from the memory until Daddy came home to be regaled with tales of the planned owl rescue sprinkled with news from the morning's ballet lesson. No trauma. No tears. No nightmares. No undue questions. The owl was cool, then he was dead. That was kind of cool too. And they would have thoroughly enjoyed a good stick poking necropsy had he landed in our yard.

As always, they are more durable than I believe. The truth of the universe that I assume will produce so much trauma is an acceptable fact of life. My 'slight' temper tantrum over the spilled glass of water, that sticks with them. I obviously have a lot to learn about life altering moments.

A tidbit of owl trivia courtesy of the Newport News ranger service: Raptors, including owls, do not know how to be prey. They have no defense systems against predators on the ground. If you approach a grounded raptor, they will stare at you so intently that they fall over. I find this hilarious and have added to my bucket list, "make bald eagle fall over."

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