At the Pond
Run of Hollow
Preface & Reader Response
Weakened and easy prey for roaming dogs and coyotes, he rested, resigned if not humbled by the hunt that had left him hunted.
BLUE MOON ON THE WING
by Jerry Murley
After two weeks of Christmas sanctuary at an abbey in Kentucky, my friend of forty years, Michael, returned for a brief visit to the hollow. Early on a bitterly cold January Saturday in a feathering of snow, we commenced our ritual morning walk on the customary four-mile route. We passed by the familiar frozen green pond and the fork in the road, then added a turn up the west hollow. Deep in conversation, I didn't notice the astonishing spectacle to the right of my feet on the side of the road. Michael said, "Now that's unusual." With that uncharacteristic understatement, both sets of eyes turned to the blended brown lump on the ground by the fence. There, still and watchful, huddled a large owl, a great horned owl.
It was not immediately apparent whether the animal was injured or not, but the rarity of the circumstances suggested that he was. The owl's unblinking, big yellow eyes tracked our every move but without any bodily change except the almost imperceptible swivel of his head at the base of the neck. His head moved without ruffling a feather. It moved ninety degrees from left to right to left as if delicately mechanized, infallibly rolling back and forth in response to our steps.
Back around the kitchen breakfast table and a warm fire at home, we resolved to find a qualified rescuer for the owl. A general inquiry went out to likely public services and then to neighbors. I left a message for the farmer, Paul, and Michael left one for Jim, a neighbor who lives up on the west ridge near the Trace, who frequently tours the hollows around Paul's farm with his black and white sheep dog.
I soon returned to see if the large bird had moved. When I approached the owl, he moved awkwardly to the center of the road and then barely lifted himself in flight to cross the road and the south creek. The owl had definitely injured one of his wings: partially outstretched, it stiffly hung to his side as if the wing was held fast in a splint and it was haggardly drawing attention to his left. The great horned owl's distinct silhouette was full and black against the brown sunlit pasture grass beyond the creek and fence.
Within an hour Jim had sought and found another pair of neighbors, James and Jean, from high on the ridge of a minor branch off the main west hollow. They were reputed to be experts in handling big combative birds, such as falcons and hawks. Jim notified me that the rescue team had assembled but the owl was no where to be found. I hurried to the site and found the owl ensconced where I had left him, between the pasture fence and an older fence on the far side of the creek. The rescuers jumped into action.
Jean, armed with long, heavy gloves and a canvas jumpsuit, crossed the creek and climbed the barbed-wire fence. She cautiously dropped an old beach towel partially over the owl's large head and grabbed the bird's legs. Her partner, James, his eyes covered with large, clear protective goggles, crossed the creek to retrieve her extra pair of gloves as she carefully carried the owl, wrapped in the towel, with her hand firmly gripping the owl's legs to prevent use of its intimidating talons.
All others on the team moved down the road along the pasture to the gate. After Jim loosened the wire tie and opened the gate, Jean walked confidently to the roadside. James extended the owl's left wing for all to see, and he examined a wound beneath it. Then Jean placed the owl into a pasteboard box held by James. Jim secured the box flaps at the top.
James and Jean took the boxed owl, whose left wing was clearly wounded, to an animal caretaker some seven miles west. This wildlife healer was one known to be experienced and licensed to give sanctuary and restorative treatment to injured owls.
Within a few days Jim communicated that the owl had been shot and had not broken his wing. Jim reported that within a few weeks the owl would be ready for release, but there were precautions being taken to prevent infection. A few days after the rescue, one of the public animal services let me know that five other big owls had been reported with injuries that same weekend.
Shortly after taking the great horned owl to the animal healer, Jean found an injured barn owl alongside a highway some ten miles north and performed another rescue. Jean told me later how she had thrown a sheet over the barn owl and secured its legs. She drove her truck home with the barn owl in her lap. Apparently, the barn owl had only been stunned by collision with a vehicle and was soon released after traffic had subsided. Jean said that the great horned owl that we had found that Saturday morning was recovering well, without infection. He was being kept a week or two more to fatten and strengthen him, as his injury was days old when we discovered him and he required longer recovery because of his weakened state after having not eaten for a day or so.
The calm, yellow-eyed great horned owl was found right after a bitter cold blue-mooned night. While convalescing, he missed some clear, very cold days and a snow. But soon he was back to face the solitary moonlit winter nights to hunt the small furry animals that enrich his diet and give him sport. Up close, he was a strange and noble creature to behold. Who had done such a thing? A bullet flown from a simple gun, perhaps fired by a young boy induced to target a grand being, had downed the great bird in flight. Weakened and easy prey for roaming dogs and coyotes, he rested, resigned if not humbled by the hunt that had left him hunted. But for the observant walk, the steady search, and the respectful and knowing hands, the great owl would not have ventured forth again – and the hollows would have hurt for it.