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Great Horned Owl Part 2

Morning of the Great Horned Owl
Part 2

The owl’s height above the field now 
less than his body’s length, and with only 
seconds from his kill, he broke his glide 
rearing upwards, swinging back his huge wings – 
much like a jet reverses its engines on 
touchdown – and, as if skidding over the air, 
his feet thrust out, its talons fully open 
to grasp, he dropped on his victim, his goal 
achieved, his meal secured. But whose life 
had he ended? The rabbit’s or anothers? 
I had to know and see for myself.

A nearby gap in the old wall offered me
the opportunity. Spured on by a sudden
streak of juvenile morbidity rising 
in me like spring maple sap and acting 
like a surge of adrenaline, I eagerly 
but quietly made my way like a shadow
through a swathe of dried out goldenrods,
all the while keeping my eyes focused on
the owl, his back slightly turned from me, 
staring down on his victim. Inching
ever closer without distracting him 
until at close range I was able to witness
the ageless drama of life and death, 
gruesome as it might be.

No more than twenty feet away I  got to see 
the victim – not the rabbit as I had thought – 
but a snake, black as shiny onyx, two stripes 
of electric yellow running along its sides, 
its small head punctured and bleeding with
the talons of one claw, the other tight about 
its throat, its mouth flapping and shutting
with loud hisses as it tried taking in air,
its body lashing and flailing violently 
to free itself from the owl’s unyielding hold,
as he stood like a rock confident and 
merciless, the struggle temporary, 
the victory his. 

It was a sight I had never witnessed 
in real time, or even seen in a wildlife 
documentary. I wasted no time in
condemning myself for my eagerness 
to witness so cruel a spectacle, though I
could not bring myself to defend it 
either on moral or natural grounds, 
asking myself with a tone of defiance 
and anger: Was this the best nature or 
evolution could come up with? Then, too, 
there was the steely silence and stone 
composure of the great owl so starkly 
contrasted with snake’s futile struggle, 
at once valiant and heroic, as I 
forced myself to watch its life slowly 
ebbing away with exhaustion until its 
body grew limp, its energy wrung dry 
like water from a wet rag. 

I had seen enough. 
Back at the house I stood gazing out 
the kitchen window into the distance,
the light’s intensity smarting my eyes 
as I sipped my father’s hardest cider, 
the drama I had just witnessed replaying 
in my head, the cider’s abrasive sting 
seizing my throat, like the owl’s talons 
the snake’s, I imagined.

Copyright © Maurice Rigoler