Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Owl Story

The owl story is legend in my family. I thought I would post it here to make sure to have it memorialized.

The wildlife that lived around our house in Louisville ten years ago is now mostly gone. When we moved in, there were open fields between us and the nearby lake, and we frequently encountered hawks, owls, raccoons, and coyotes. Today those fields are full of houses; the former wild residents have long relocated, but memories of them remain. The most vivid remembrance I have was the fall evening when a great horned owl slid down the chimney and into the fireplace. Fortunately, the glass doors around the hearth were tightly shut, and all he could do was peer out at me like a little jailbird, while I stared in astonishment and the dog hid behind me. After I gathered my wits, I started making calls to various organizations: the Humane Society, the Division of Wildlife, and a wildlife sanctuary—each recommended that I call one of the others. I was not pleased, but as it was almost 10:00 p.m., I decided that I wasn’t going to get the problem solved that night.

In the morning, I went down and took a closer look at my captive. He looked like a Halloween decoration—two big eyes, a huge beak, and a pair of giant claws. As I had just started a new job and didn’t feel that I could request a day off because there was an owl in the fireplace, I went to work thinking that I would figure out what to do from there. A colleague advised calling the Bird of Prey foundation. I had to beg the woman who answered their phone to help me and swear that I wouldn’t sue them for any damage to my house; she ultimately agreed to send someone over to remove the owl that evening. I hid my irritation when she queried me as to the size of the owl. I explained that he was “giant-sized” and “huge,” whereupon she politely asked, “Is it the size of a robin?” I hung up wondering what kind of owls they were used to dealing with. My owl was as big as a dozen robins.

Promptly at seven that evening, a young woman rang my doorbell. To my amusement, she was carrying a small cardboard carrier, not much larger than a shoebox. No way was the owl going to fit in there, although a robin would have. But I didn’t say anything, just nodded when she held it up to show me and escorted her to the family room. I pointed at the fireplace and was vindicated when my rescuer walked over, peered in the doors, dropped the box, and exclaimed, “Oh My God! It’s a Great Horned Owl!”

Next came the tricky part—the extrication. The Bird Girl asked me to get some blankets, and outfitted each of us with one, but did not provide any explanation as to how I was supposed to use it. I gathered I would figure it out. She opened up the fireplace door, and talking to the bird the whole time, started to slowly position the blanket around its claws. “See, it’s going well,” she said over her shoulder to me. At that moment the owl obviously tired of the nonsense and sprang from the fireplace and winged around the room. He bounced off the ceiling and landed next to my benefactor. She threw her blanket at him but missed, and he circled the room again. This time he landed next to me, and amateur that I was, I dropped my blanket on him, having gotten the gist of what to do.

It was easy from there. The Bird Girl gathered him up in the blanket and we went out the front door, where she sat him down on the ground and then gently eased the blanket off him. He stood there for a minute, looking up at the two of us as if wondering what new tricks we might have up our sleeves, and then in one beautiful moment, he spread his wings, lifted off the ground, and was gone.

Until we renovated our family room, we proudly pointed out to our visitors the wing prints on the ceiling made by the ashes on that owl’s wings.

No comments: