Morning of the Great Horned Owl

Morning of the Great Horned Owl

The sound was unmistakeable, strong, 
resonant, confirming my certainty 
that it could be only the mating call 
of a great horned owl  and a male of 
exceptional size, though I had not heard 
or seen one in many years. My sense of 
direction told my ears its booming calls 
were coming somewhere in deep woods 
a mile away where the gravel road
I was about to take my morning walk 
ended abruptly like an unfinished sentence.
The sound of gravel breaking under 
my boots would accompany my steps 
until I reached the end of the road 
where it narrowed to a moss covered
foot path and disappeared into the dark 
depths of the woods; and I stood facing
several giant oak trees of great age 
and girth looming upward before me, 
burly branches wildly intertwined with 
each other like huge black serpents in
deadly combat from some mythological 
story I remember reading as a boy.
I looked up scanning the big branches 
for a sign of the horned owl, thinking
he might be perched on one of them,
but I did not see him. More than likely
he had called it a night.

About to make my way back, a rabbit 
broke the silence as it dashed out from 
a patch of scruffy underbrush and skipped 
across the road, and startling me for 
a moment, its sound, to my mind at least, 
leaving what I imagined something like
a wake in the air, much as a duck leaves 
in water, and quickly disappeared in 
the direction of the large field dimly 
visible through a stand of spindly birches 
so thick, I imagined myself looking 
through hundreds of prison bars.

Reaching the half way point of my walk, 
the large field opened to my right and I 
stopped to rest against the old wall that ran 
the length of the road, its field stones heavily 
scarred with bluish-green lichen whose texture 
when touched reminded me of the rough 
surface of a cat’s tongue. Decades of weather 
and time had dislodged many of the stones, 
leaving gaps here and there in its journey 
like missing teeth in an old man’s mouth. 

At the far end of the field, a fragile
bluish mist of delicate transparency 
stretched across its length. And then, 
descending ominously through the mist 
like an apparition: I spotted it:
a great horned owl. Its low approach 
a sure sign that it had fixed on a victim 
somewhere in the field as yet unknown
to me, but likely the hapless rabbit 
that had startled me earlier.

I watched with boy-like excitement its 
effortless suspension in the air, fixing 
my eyes on its approach, my heart beats 
increasing with no let-up. I rough-guessed 
its enormous wing span at more than six feet, 
its body length easily three, if not more. 
It was the largest horned owl I had 
ever seen, and a formidable enemy 
and killer to any doomed prey.

Without beating a wing, the great bird
directed its approach unerringly 
to where his victim was. Then, suddenly,
an urgency welled up in me clearly 
foreign to my nature, and took hold 
of me with a force I could not compare 
to any other I had ever experienced 
in my seventy-four years:  How and by 
what means could I save or at least warn 
the rabbit of its certain death?
With the least hesitation I made a quick 
and desperate search in the road for stones 
big enough to throw, hoping its impact 
on hitting the ground might cause the rabbit
to scamper off to safety. But the gravel 
road offered only small pebbles, leaving me
no other option but to watch nature’s 
ageless drama play itself out with
its merciless, cruel and cold wisdom.

With Death gliding silently only a few 
feet above the field, my heart pounding, 
the distance – that terrible distance 
between life and death – grew shorter and shorter.
With unerring accuracy, and only
seconds before the kill, the great owl 
reared upward and as if skidding on
the air to break his speed, swung back 
his huge wings, like a jet reverses 
its engines on landing, feet and talons 
thrust out, and for a second seemed
to defy gravity suspended in mid-air 
directly above his victim, and dropped 
on it. But what was the object of his 
kill? Was it the rabbit as I first thought?
Or some other creature? I had to know.

Overtaken by what seemed to me
a sudden spur of juvenile morbidity
I climbed over a nearby gap in the wall 
and made my way quietly to within
thirty feet of the owl, his back slightly 
toward me, his head down, his eyes fixed
on his catch, he was unaware of my 
presence, ans I was able to gain another
ten or more feet without detection. 
Now, at close range, I stood motionless
and  saw what he had been tracking only 
minutes earlier – not the rabbit as I
had first thought, but a snake, glossy black, 
no more than two feet, flailing its twisting 
length with force and energy, trying to 
extricate itself from those deadly talons.

The snake’s paroxysms gradually weaken, 
its energy diminishing with every 
arduous effort, as it body slowly 
grew limp and drained of life, like a piece 
of wet cloth wrung dry of water. With an
imperious gaze, the great owl looked 
down steadfastly on his kill, its crushing
talons imbedded firmly in the small head 
and throat, its mouth gaping without
audible cries of pain, and except for 
intermittent spasms released by 
final impulses of its dying vitality, 
its valiant struggle had come to an end.

No more would it weave its belly over 
the surface of the ground, no more would it 
know anything earthly, no more flicker
its forked tongue to read the air for the scent 
of warm blood, this creature cursed, maligned 
and dreaded. It now belonged to another’s 
hunger, another’s body, another’s life.
Back at the house, I stood looking out 
the kitchen window into the distance 
ablaze in smarting light, sipping my dead 
father’s hardest cider, the drama of 
the kill replaying in my head, feeling 
the sharp sting of the cider seizing 
my throat with each sip, not unlike, I imagined, 
the owl’s talons in the snake’s throat.

Copyright © | Year Posted 2018

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Date: 4/28/2018 6:53:00 PM
wow! you have told this story so amazingly, maurice, that i was absolutely riveted at every sentence. i'm so glad you got to see this magnificent creature up close but i have to admit, i was very relieved that it wasn't the rabbit that he had caught. (sorry, but i don't feel as bad about the snake!) thank you for sharing what you witnessed in such glorious detail...
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Date: 4/28/2018 2:35:00 PM
Your poem really should be published Maurice it is an outstanding piece of poetry:-) hugs Jan xx
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Date: 4/28/2018 12:47:00 PM
I'm speechless at this gripping story , one word EXCEPTIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!into my faves:-) hugs jan xx
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