She might have come curving down a glide path, intent on prey, and then blinded by sudden headlights turning the sharp bend, and then struck, her neck broken, and thus left hunched on the edge of the road, her ear tufts giving her away and drawing from me a choking sound. Traces of blood had dried below her beak. Her immense eyes were open and bright, a burnished, radiant black encircled by an intense yellow. She remained soft. I found her early Thanksgiving morning in the snow along an empty road in the country.*
Great Horned Owls have evolved pin feathers on the edges of their wings, and thus may descend in absolute silence upon almost anything that crawls, hops or flies — skunks, cats, Canada Geese, weasels, woodchucks, grasshoppers, snakes, shrews. They “strike the leaf nests of squirrels to flush them into the open,” and “will take crows off their night roosts.” Imagine that for a crow’s moment — silence, head tucked below a wing, perched next to a brother or sister and … gone … without even a whoosh or cry, just gone as if made invisible. The young of the Great Horned “on the wing following a parent will utter cries that sound like screams.”**
The modernist in me took photos and the enraged one mourned. The enraged one cursed cars and electric fences and creeps who shoot owls and raptors for sport. The modernist recorded the body, the wings, talons as sharp as a crescent moon and as long as one of my fingers, those devastating reflective eyes. Something else in me stroked the feathered pales of her eyelids closed.
On that morning, kneeling in the snow, I cursed all the cruelty concocted by human beings and manifested in the wealth of their inventions, in their locust-like expansion deeper into nature, and I used my cell-phone to record the death of this owl. I cursed the person who had swung around that corner and clipped her, and I remembered the creatures who had gone before my car, under its wheels and crushed against its grill and windshield — a cardinal as red in my memory as in its life, a pheasant, a fox making an abrupt dash whose auburn tail flying above my right front tire still haunts me.
Early yesterday morning, by a kind of spectral coincidence, a Great Horned began to call from one of the big poplars in the tree line by the field. We had not heard one for years, their numbers knocked back by the West Nile Virus. Luna, so young, having never marked that long hooting moan before, jumped upon the bed and sat upright, her ears sharpened to points, vigilant, alert to a mystery she had never experienced.
*The females of the species are larger than the males. This had been a big owl, as long as the space from my fingertips to my elbow.
**All information and quotations from The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds by John Terres