A Day of Blessings
On Facebook this morning, I posted about my eventful morning, and ask anyone that knows me- I get jazzed about anything community involvement, democracy, and getting to go vote and anything related. I'm blessed to live in a time in history where I can vote. I'm blessed to live in a country where I can vote. I'm blessed to have been raised to value voting by my parents. So yeah, my morning was tough to top.
Even though I didn't get to grafting my apple trees, my afternoon didn't only top my morning, it was the highlight of my dad, week, and year to this point.
So I went out to forage my ramps, and I have 7 beautiful batches to pick from this early. Seeing I had more than enough, I left 4 of them untouched and decided to head home for lunch. That's when I saw 2 red-tailed hawks spook as my utv drove out of the woods. I wondered was going on and then I saw it: a bobcat!
Well, actually it wasn't a bobcat, but the outline of the head from 50 feet could have fooled anyone. The "bobcat" hopped out into the path from the wooded edge, and that's when I was corrected, it was a great horned owl. What a treasure! I vocally exclaimed "you are so beautiful" to myself, which I'm sure the owl picked up with its great hearing, though assuredly oblivious to the meaning of my noise.
We stared and shared the moment, and after a while I decided to snap a few pictures. My movements made her (or him) anxious and she decided to flee. That's when I was able to observe what was going on. A broken wing limited her flight to just 10 feet and rewarded her with a tumultuous landing.
I realized that this owl could be saved, but it would most likely starve to death if I didn't intervene. So I looked up wildlife rehabilitation centers in the area, but didn't find anything nearby other than in Madison. Nonetheless, I called and left messages, what's the harm in seeing if they would come down and get it?
With no answer, t I decided to push her to a safe haven- a thicket of sumac in the low ground of our pasture. Unsure of what would happen, I wished her goodluck and patience to stay there.
About 2 hours later, I received a phone call from Four Lakes Rehabilitation center in McFarland and they said they would take her. I said that I would try to catch her, but wasn't sure how that would go and if I got her, I would give them a call back. I wasn't sure she would still be where I last saw her, and even if she was, how would I catch her without injury to her or myself.
Turns out, catching an injured owl requires 3 things: a calm voice, patience, and an old quilt. And luck definitely helps!
She let me get about 20 feet away on the first try, but good luck throwing a quilt that far in the wind. i was constantly talking to her, hoping that she was as quick of learner of human intention as she is wise. Then I was able to get within 15 feet. And then 10 feet.
That was all the closer she would allow me to get, and she fled to the south into the open pasture. What ensued was what I call a slow motion game of chase, resembling a combination of tag and red light-green light. At least that's what I romanticize it as. I'm sure a fly on the wall would have appropriated circus music to it, but this is my story and my memory.
She tripped up before I did, which is no small feat as I was sprinting around in rubber boots, and she found herself on her back. An owl on their back in broad daylight is not much different than a turtle flipped onto its back. I capitalized by throwing my quilt, which to this point served as a combination of a low altitude kite and a matador's cape, onto her. She seized it in her 2 inch talons immediately!
With cautious I covered her head in the quilt, and a calm entered the situation. Despite the calm, I was not going to compromise my advantage by getting complacent. I sprinted over to the gator (utv) to get the dog kennel I "borrowed" from my neighbors. I thought the hard part was over, and maybe it was, but the next part was the most dangerous, at least for my superficial features. I had to somehow get the owl into the kennel, without further injuring its wing, and at the same time avoid those talons and that beak. Tools forged by millions of years of evolution to specialize in piercing and not letting go and pulling apart flesh. I respected the need for caution.
Now, I don't know if my strategy actually helped, but I ended up successful. To disorient and occupy the owl I lifted the quilt up and down to let in varying amounts of light. My thinking was that a super sensitive nocturnal goddess that an owl is would have an exaggerated experience that many humans can relate to. You know that feeling, the one where you walk into a dark room after being outside in the bright sun, or conversely being woken up to the curtains being opened.
To my "enjoyment" I was able to witness my strategy in effect. As I lifted the blanket and lower it I saw in glimpses the hyperactive pupils shrink and grow. I went back to 3rd grade in Mrs. Marty's (no relation) class where we learned about the pupils relation to the iris and smirked.
Slowly, I folded her wings in. After careful adjustment, I scooped her up into the kennel. By the way, I previously said you need 3 things to catch an owl. That's true, but if you want safely transport or handle it, you need a kennel or something.
The rest of the story is relatively uneventful. She, at this point she was named Aldo (after Aldo Leopold obviously, and screw gender norm names), and was able to enjoy a favorite childhood memory of mine: a gator ride. A ride in the back of the gator, often after dinner in the twilight of the day, when critters and creatures come out in the cool air. It was a feature of summer with my father, who captained the "ship". I don't think she realized that this was supposed to be a good memory. She was frantic, and I can't blame her, but in a few short minutes we were by the cheese factory (my home). I realized a second blanket (the first was in the kennel, and I was not retrieving that) could be used to return Aldo to the dark and consequently her comfort.
Before I could take Aldo to her new, temporary home afternoon chores were attended to, with no eventfulness I may add, a blow to the theory (law?) of Murphy's Law that what can go wrong, will go wrong. We also needed a change of vehicle, my car could not fit the St. Bernard sized dog kennel. Luckily a shirt-off-your-back type of neighbor, Lindsey, traded her van for my car for the rest of the day.
My father returned from a meeting, and was able to catch "something cool" before I departed. He was brave enough to pet her, something I thought he was pulling my leg about, but he "petted" her through the blanket. Not exactly what I had pictured, but Aldo seemed to not mind.
Ok, so now the rest of the story was pretty eventful. Dad helped me load her into the van, and the entire hour trip to the rehab center resulted in not a peep from Aldo. And to the credit of Four Lakes, the process was quick and painless (for me) and within 10 minutes of arriving, I was on my way.
I hope that Aldo will see my farm again, and the rehab center says that is definitely a possibility and something they like to do to reunite mates. I'm gonna have 150+ chickens in my pasture this year, so I'm hoping that Aldo remembers this day the next time she salivates at the sight of chicken nuggets in my pasture. I hope she diverts her attention to those voles that poses a definite debarking threat to my 2000+ fruit and nut trees that will be planted in the next 2 months. That's my hope, and while this might sound crazy to some, I'm choosing to put myself out there. I want to believe that there is more rhyme to this life than there is reason. That things will relate to each other in ways that they are treated, and by saving a potential "threat" to what I'm doing, I'm hoping that I am saved from a dysfunctional farm. A farm that is not in sync with nature. A farm that sees nature as a threat and not a fortune. A farm where I am not in the frame of mind to value all life as worthy of stewardship.
Thank you for reading. Aldo, thank you for this lesson.