In the early morning darkness for the last ten years or so, I had the pleasure of hearing the hoots of a Great Horned Owl that lived in the woods behind our home. It was a haunting sound, somehow majestic, regal, filling me with a sense of wonder that stirred the soul. On a recent Saturday afternoon I met that owl in a personal, humbling way. I arrived home in the mid-afternoon and heard a ruckus coming from the woods. Bluejays were screeching, there were the shrill cries of a bird of prey, robins crying out a warning, and the crows were cawing. I had to investigate. Tiptoeing up the wooded hillside, I found a large owl, hunched over in the dead leaves, barely able to move. I approached closer and the owl didn’t move. At first I thought it was dead. And then, with a tremendous effort, it tilted its head to look up at me. Brilliant golden eyes stared for a long moment, seeming to look into me. The eyes closed and the head bowed. I knew the owl was not doing well.
We put in a call to the local wildlife rescue office at a nearby park. The person on the phone suggested that a towel be thrown over the owl’s head to keep it calm, and that it be put in a box and brought to the shelter. With help from others I tossed a towel over the big bird and picked it up. It was a sensation I cannot describe. To hold such a magnificent creature in my hands without it struggling was beyond description.
At the wildlife shelter, the owl was diagnosed with a severe head trauma resulting in brain damage beyond any hope for recovery. It could not fly or even stand up. To my surprise, it was not a young owl, but a mature female. She had to be put to sleep. And so for me, the owl that had greeted me so many mornings had come to me to share the end of her life. I will surely miss her though the Ranger gave us some hope that one of her young may take up residence in the void left by her passing. I’ll see if hoots greet me again one day.