I stood in the green pastured lower hay field with completely dry boots feeling optimistic. A week ago there’d been sinking mud in this same spot. Spring Equinox was happening today. Yellow daffodils were poking their heads up at every turn.
Pushing myself up the steep hill pinning my heels into the ground through the black rubber boots, my heart fluttered. Not with love, but with hill trodden exertion as Kona Rose, our Old English Bulldog met me at the crest in an alerted stance.
“What is it girl?” I asked catching my breath.
She barked at me, Woof Woof!
“What?” I asked again.
Kona curved around the top edge of our trailer to lead the way to the back corner. Her feet timid in stance pattering forward to stop. Woof! Pointing with her whole body.
Ok. Something is over there.
A spike centered in my chest just like all the times I’d missed an important detail in life and been surprised with shock separating my being into halves. Guilt oozing out of the cracks.
“What do you see girl? What is it?” I asked again wondering if a person had somehow made it up the long gravel driveway without me seeing. I almost saw him in my mind hiding around the back corner. But my nerves were always ready to surprise him back by being completely aware that he was there and being able to handle myself better than he’d seen any girl fight. My strength was unstoppable in these flight or fight moments.
Kona took a few steps forward and shook her body, Look mama, look! I felt her say. My fingers clenched to fists at the ready as the tightness stilled my uneasiness.
Curled up underneath the back edge of our fifth wheel sat an animal. Brown. Non-Responsive.
Pause. Ok, what does this mean? I asked myself a bit too early.
Pulling Kona back I looped my thumb underneath her collar, “Good girl Kona. You found it. Thank you honey!” Leading her up the steps through the front door and inside I shut the screen behind her.
Taking a deep breath, turning around, I put my imaginary investigation super sleuth hat and spectacles on. No time for anxiousness here.
I stepped lightly through the grey gravel rocks so as not to disturb the non-responsive animal. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. My eyes closed gently at the loud noise underfoot and kept moving slowly anyway.
Stopping at five feet behind I saw brown feathers draping around two claw hooked talons. Bird.
Ok. We’ve got a bird. And it’s still not moving. Came across the loud speaker in my mind.
I curled twenty feet out to the left so as to come upon the bird from the front but still not frighten it anymore than it might be. It’s head poked up but body remained still.
A full breath pulled in through my eyes and dropped jaw into the center of my chest where the spike had previously pierced.
It’s an owl. I’ve never seen an owl before. Not in the wild. Not like this.
What does this mean? Came again.
Initial reactions ensued. I must’ve done something this morning to make this happen. Owls mean wisdom. Owls are overseers. And now this baby owl was hurt and at my mercy. What would I do? What did I do?
I stopped listening.
Texting my friend for a little support and insight:
Found an injured baby owl. Know any ideas of how to help? Or what to do?
The response looked grim:
If you can, put it in a box. Then call the Department of Wildlife. They’ll know. If it’s too bad sometimes these situations need a silver bullet.
Good old Google took the helm from here. Pressing the invisible keys on my smartphone I typed…
Injured. Baby. Owl.
Tapping ‘search’ in hopes of directions that might lead towards a gentler version of mercy than a silver bullet…
I read step by step pacing back and forth through the kitchen of the trailer. The instructions said to keep calm, check, and take the injured animal in for refuge. Ok, I can do that.
The number for the North Coast Wildlife center dialed through the phone.
“Hello? North Coast muffled muffled. My name is muffled…”
“Hi there. I’ve found an injured baby owl. What should I do?”
“Put it in a box with a towel. Be gentle. Drive it to us. And don’t play any music.”
A held breath from the lower pockets of my lungs let out. Ok. Concrete directions. I’m good at directions.
Luckily we had a box sitting under the trailer and a perfectly clean towel for our new friend to lie on. I rummaged through all my work gloves in the garage to find the cleanest pair as a shiver sent down my spine. I’m gonna have to touch it.
A flash of rainbow trout sliding through my fingertips whipped across the screen in my mind inciting the same shivered feeling. I liked fishing but I could barely stand the sliminess of touching and unhooking the fish once they were caught. This severely shortened all of my angling opportunities. I’d stand on the shoreline as the fish flopped hooked at the end of my line ‘til someone came to help me, usually my dad. Fishing alone I always secretly hoped I’d never catch anything. I couldn’t deal with the feeling of that wet sticky slide through my palms that shivered my spine and rumbled through my gut. Screaming at high pitch, running, jumping and shaking my hands down at my sides never seemed to eliminate enough of the yuck.
Let’s be honest, I never fish alone.
I gently put the clean soft fleece winter gloves onto my hands and held them palm upwards toward the heavens.
Should I say a prayer before I touch this thing?
I wanted only positive healing energy to pass through me onto him as I moved it from the ground into the box.
A calm clean conscious breath of air was all I could manage.
Slowly walking up to the owl it’s head turned to the side. Good. Still moving.
I set the box down gently five feet away. The Google said injured birds could die just from the shock of sound. I understood immensely. Slamming doors, surprising noises and jolts of clangs n’ bangs shocked me into suspension nearly everyday.
My gloved hands cupped gently together as I squatted behind the owl. Scooping underneath him I lifted ever so slowly and placed it on the soft toweled box bed I’d made. Closing all four corners, I lifted evenly as my breath held still and tip toed towards the passenger side of my car. This owl, our new injured friend, was riding shotgun to safety.
Coaxing Kona Rose into the car was a different story.
“Come on girl! We’ve gotta get our friend to the doctor!”
She walked down the front stairway but held still in the gravel. It’s lunchtime. We don’t normally get in the car at lunchtime.
“Kona! Let’s go!”
I grabbed treats, “Here’s a treat girl! Come. On!!!”
Last resort. I pulled her leash out to clip her into submission mode. Just seeing it’s presence moved her towards me.
I pointed at the car. She looked at me one more time and I forcefully angled my head towards the back seat where she knew she was supposed to be.
Step. Hop. Hop. Up. And she’s in! A silent roll of 777’s flashed in my gut. Jackpot.
I took care to close the car doors with ease not wanting to disturb the owl.
My mind was starting to back track. But my body kept moving forward.
Get in car.
Drive down road.
Find animal refuge.
Keep radio silent.
Each breath rolled into the next action. Inhale… Exhale…
Go slowly around this curve.
Turn left on Highway 202.
Get animal to refuge.
But my mind was still playing out both favorable and unfavorable outcomes.
This highway was new territory winding sharply past speeding log trucks. Left. Right. Slow down. Speed up. Go Go Go! Adventure at it’s best. I felt my state flip into Flow.
Last Tuesday I’d never have dreamed of a story like this and yet here we are pulling down an inconspicuous gravel road in the middle of the Oregon Coast forest with a baby owl in my passenger seat and puppy in the back seat. It felt good to be together. Even though the noise of memories and projections were still buzzing I was also noticing peace. This was going to be however it would be.
The blue trimmed building looked pretty bare. Walking up to the front door with boxed owl in hand I hoped for the best and rang the door bell.
“Oh Hi! You must have the injured owl. Let’s see it,” the nameless animal saving gal said.
I placed the box on the ground as she propped open the lid reaching her pink chipped finger nail polished bare hands inside slowly like she was about to pick up a cute puppy. I admired her ease with such a tender situation.
“Oh dear. It’s not moving,” she said.
Peeking around the edge of the box at our little friend who’d just made our troop of two into a gang of three for today’s wild ride sighing in dismay.
She pulled the owl up and turned his face towards us. The eyes that I had seen open, yet weary, were now closed shut.
No silence interjected the moment.
“Oh shoot,” I said, for once not feeling an ounce of guilt that I hadn’t moved fast enough, known what to do, or been able to save the little guy.
“Sometimes they bump their heads or have internal bleeding. We’ll do a necropsy on him to find out. But thank you for bringing him in,” she said.
“Sure thing,” I answered as if I knew what a necropsy was. All the dots pointed towards “bird autopsy” so I went with that.
The wildlife animal saving gal led me inside the building to get information where I’d found the owl so they could keep up with their records. I looked around inside and saw the efforts of a team coming to the aide of these precious beings week after week. These people woke up, showered, brushed their teeth, and saved wild animals right in this room all day long.
Standing frozen under the frame of the doorway for a brief moment 10 feet away from the dead owl and the two workers who were having a conversation about what kind of owl he was.
“It’s a saw-whet,” the second gal with short blue hair said.
“Oh wait, it’s actually a screech-owl,” bending over and moving her glasses up to peer closer.
“And it’s not a baby. He’s full grown,” added the first gal.
I stayed back.
The last time I stood behind the threshold of death’s door was when I was 15 and my great grandfather, my favorite grandma’s dad, lay deathly ill in an Astoria hospital bed. The rest of our family surrounded him but I just couldn’t quite muster enough strength, gusto, courage or willingness to get my lead feet out of the doorway and into his room. It was like the air changed in there and I was afraid of my own lung capacity. I may have been more afraid of my overly abundant tear capacity. No one wants to soothe a crying individual who isn’t the one in the hospital bed but is carrying the burden and feeling of every single person in the room. So, I stayed out.
The two workers surrounded the owl. They were normal girls just like me. For a moment I tried to peer into each of their beings and lives to wonder why we’d been brought together on this day. No conclusions reached the surface.
Paper hit the counter. I clenched my jaw to swallow quickly. And just like that before I knew it I was inside the room standing in a very small séance circle with the girls around the dead owl. His body just laid there in the center, lifeless and unmoving.
“Where did you find him?” the first gal asked.
“Out in Jewell,” I said facing her and the dead owl noticing that absolutely nothing was happening to my vital signs. Heartrate wasn’t peaking. Jaw wasn’t clenching. Breath wasn’t frozen.
Everything seemed ok.
There was nothing I needed to manage.
“Thank you again for bringing him in,” she said.
“No prob guys. Have a good day,” turning to walk through the doorway threshold that a younger version of myself was still standing at the edge of. Even though I knew she had hard times passing through thresholds I winked at her for showing up anyway.
Hopping into the front seat of my FJ Cruiser I turned towards the back seat at the happy puppy who was wondering about all the commotion and awaiting my arrival.
“Kona Rose. Good job girl!” I said. “I am just so proud of you!” Petting her on the soft smooth white head as she leaned into my hand. “We helped that owl today. Thank you for finding him. Thank you for letting me know he was there.”
She kept looking at me as I gave her another treat.
I turned towards the front window shield and flipped the ignition to head back down the road we’d just come. I remembered an inkling of a notion that might’ve worried about death passing by us so consciously and up close with fearful drags pulling me into wondering what might happen next… But this was not my memory. Not anymore.
Looking up in the rearview mirror at Kona, “You know what girl!?” I asked her fondly remembering the ride to the animal refuge with a car full of the gang of three.
“That owl didn’t die alone today because of us. He passed with friends,” I said looking back out the front window.
Kona stepped up and licked me on the cheek then rested her chin on my shoulder.
I let one tear flow down out of my eye in honor of our friend.
And then I smiled driving us all the way back home.