Owl Eyes

I will never forget your great, golden eyes. They were almost incomprehensibly radiant under the light of my headlamp: round, huge and deep…half open, like those of a sleepy domestic cat. Your kind typically exist to me like elusive phantoms – it was shocking to see you there, a tangible thing, a perfect little being made from flesh and bone…but under the worst circumstances.

You had been hit by a car, and were on the road. We pulled over and got out to check in on you. At first I was mostly curious, looking for obvious injuries, wondering if by some miracle you were still alive. It was on our minds, but it was not so. James picked you up by your feet, and feeling an obligation to your dignity, I held your head, which was still extremely mobile, as was the rest of you. Your eyes flashed artificially and in that moment, my heart broke. It was so sudden. I took your body and sat with you on my lap on the side of the road, surprised by the electrical effect you had on my state of being. Things connected. A jolt.

You couldn’t see me, even as I stared into your profound eyes. I remember the warmth leaving your delicate figure, how sad it was to feel the remnants of your life lost to my palms and the huge expanse of air above and around us. It had been dark for some time, so active life must have only recently fled. I was amazed by your almost impossibly light little body and the wispy, plush feeling of your feathers, still crawling with the strangest of flies. Flat, long ones, reminding me of Platycryptus salticids – they were about the same size. Others were much smaller, their wings short and round, like a fungus gnat. Both leapt from you to my hands in erratic bursts of flight – they were disturbed by my hands and the light. You were their home, maybe even a source of food.

You were surprisingly small and I admired your sharp, dark and robust talons, trying to imagine you walking on them, visualizing prey in their grip. I carefully brushed my fingers over your finely wrinkled, sort of scaly legs. They were a pale yellow, like corn on the cob devoid of the juicy kernels, even lighter where the flesh seemed dry and flaky.

What tore at me most was the memory of seeing your living companion first, parent or mate, I am not sure – but the look of utter confusion as we passed them by, the headlights of the truck washing them out until they flew off the fence post and into the black canyon night. They had wanted to be near you and knew something was wrong. To this moment, I keep wondering how long that night will sit with them.

For social and semi-social beings, we need companionship and are truly lucky when we can find it – the opportunity to freely love others and to be loved. Even if such a love is as simple as sharing food, gentle touches and long looks…a real connection, to share the journey on this planet in friendship. I mourn that loss for all conscious living things. It is the struggle for light in the dark majority, it is everything.

I don’t usually find myself so disturbed by death, particularly in nature, but this was utterly preventable. And so it is with decay in so many aspects of life. I selfishly poured myself into you. A symbolic part of me, hopefully now scattered to scavenging insects, various lingering creatures and the hungry earth. To move through life, we have to learn to recognize and say goodbye to the dying parts. It isn’t always easy – but once you do, you enjoy clarity, renewed authenticity. In the world of arthropods, its a bit like moulting. Shedding into bigger, better things.

Some deaths are a perfect mirror, violently reflecting back to us the inexplicable beauty and terror of the choices that make up our *one* life.

James took this photo of the deceased, beautiful little Western Screech-Owl.

James took this photo of the deceased, beautiful little Western Screech-Owl.

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