Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Life and Death

I’m farm-sitting again. This morning, after finishing chores and feeding the menagerie, I pulled out of my employer’s drive and headed for home. Almost immediately I was confronted with a foreign unidentifiable object in the road; I braked and swerved. Perplexed, I slowed to look as I drove by. Was it a dead bloated calico cat? A bundled package of tattered papers? The world’s oddest-shaped piece of petrified driftwood?

The reality proved more sinister and more depressing. A great horned owl, full grown and large, lay spread-eagled on the ground, facedown over a young disemboweled possum. Both were stiff and cold. Rarely do I have the opportunity to see an owl, living or dead, and the sight of this majestic creature stirred me enough to bend down, pick it up, and move it off the ground. And what a beautiful thing it was, even in the stillness of death. One eye was closed, a papery opaque lid shut forever, but the other was cracked open, striking yellow, still staring solemnly. The beak was short, hooked, and powerful. The feathers were unbelievably soft and in varying shades of browns and earthtones. The puffy “horns” blew in the faint breeze, almost comical. Leathery gripping pads covered the bottoms of the feet, harsh talons still covered in sacrificial blood of the owl’s last supper. I could have sworn that at any moment the bird would wake, shake itself, give me a wicked look, rise, and fly away. I laid it reverently in the grass beside the road, gathered my composure, shivered in the cold, and resumed my drive.

Oddly enough, I had little sympathy for the possum and left it lying frozen to the pavement. Perhaps this was because it was common vermin, an everyday sort of roadkill. But more likely it was because it was the victim only of nature and so-called natural order—the food chain, The Way It Has Always Been. Its predator, however, had been snuffed out by something unnatural, a careless driver, a man-made folly, a tragedy, whether accidental or intentional, cold unfeeling machinery, hard pavement, eminent domain.

The day passed. I made the return trip in the black night. I passed the place where I had left the owl and peered into the darkness, but couldn’t make out the exact spot. And then—something in the road. Again, I braked and swerved. And lo and behold, there, on top of the very same possum, was another owl, this one very much alive. A barred owl this time, also large, white and black and gray. I stopped right beside it, as it showed no signs of moving out of my way. We exchanged a Look. “Fucking owls!” I said, a little more loudly than I had intended, despite my lack of an audience. “Stay out of the fucking road!” And, as though understanding, the raptor grabbed its meal in one clawed foot and hopped awkwardly to the grass, leaving the possum behind (presumably for later) before flying off irritably into the night. Silent wings. Another beautiful bird.

I can’t help but feel that there was some sort of lesson I was supposed to pick up on today. The impermanence of life, or the beauty of it? The give-and-take of it all?
And yesterday my family’s dog, Keaton the redbone coonhound, had to be euthanized. Sigh.


secret agent woman said...

Wow, that's an arresting photo.

I ofund a red-tailed hawk dead in the road once and it made me want to cry. I carried it to the side of the road and covered it in leaves. Sounds like you and I have the same instincts.

Mozart said...

Funny how that works, isn't it? So symbolic.