This weekend we change our clocks, and in less than two weeks it will officially be spring. If you have ever had that feeling that someone is following you, tiptoeing to catch you by surprise, that is how I feel about the coming of spring. It is windy today and the first daffodils are in bloom. I am visualizing how my yard will be in full bloom midsummer, mentally plotting where I will plant the three hydrangea bushes I ordered, and considering how I can spruce up my screened-in porch. I have decided to not wait until it gets warm to sit out there; all I need is a good chair and a blanket. A peaceful way to start my day.
Last week I looked outside and saw something moving in a corner near a large urn that sits on the porch. It was grayish, not the brown of the dried hydrangea blossoms that I placed in a bundle in a wooden bucket last fall. I went to get my glasses, took another look, asking myself if I was looking at fur or feathers, and I realized it was a bird of some sort, because it shivered a bit and then raised a large majestic wing. It was a barn owl that had flown through the screen, and probably stunned itself in the process. I didn’t want to move the bird, fearing that could it cause more harm, and setting it outside, if injured, would make it vulnerable to an attack by another animal.
I made a few calls, to my brother for advice and finally to animal control at the city and within an hour, a friendly worker came. I pointed to the porch and showed him where the owl was, and he gently scooped it up and placed it in a carrier with warm blankets. The owl’s eyes were closed, but it was breathing steadily and did not appear harmed on the outside. He said they make every attempt to nurse back to good health the animals they capture, especially the owls and other raptors, and then release them into the wild.
I enjoy my porch or looking outside through the large windows of my home, but at times like these I remember that humans are not the only living creatures that share this space. I thought back to a recent trip to San Diego, where I strolled around Balboa Park, enjoying the flowers, the layout of the rose garden, cacti of all shapes and colors, and the curves and design of the tea garden. It was nature by design, but I had a gorgeous day outdoors. I felt guilty about the owl because it was my home that caused its accident. I cannot create a space where accidents like this won’t ever happen, but I am grateful that in my community, these birds are seen as treasures, not a nuisance, and that someone was able to help when I did not know what to do.
When you have always lived in the city, as I have, and did not have pets because of allergies, it is hard to know animals the way someone does that grew up with them, or lived on a farm. But in my small way, I am learning. Two years ago I planted a patch of butterfly weed to attract monarchs and selected other flowers and bushes because I know that bees and many birds are drawn to them. I sometimes shoo away the feral cats that roam our street if a bird is nearby, but I know they also take care of other animals I may not find as pleasing.
The owl had the softest, downiest feathers, mostly gray, but some were black and white, giving it a mottled effect. Its face was round and fluffy but I knew that beneath all of the feathers was a small, delicate-boned bird. The ear-like tufts stood out from its face and seemed to move in unison with its breath.
Its talons were clearly meant for capturing prey—large in proportion to the rest of the bird, thick knuckles and long, pinkish-gray sharp claws at the end. I had only seen such birds from a distance, watching them swoop down and snatch up an animal, maybe a mouse or another small bird, and then carry it off to a tree. Up close, I saw that the talons are weapons and designed to hold and secure a target. Despite our attempts to tame the wild and keep it at bay until we choose to experience nature, it is always present, and appears when least expected.
Still mulling over my encounter with the bird, I sat down to eat lunch that I had prepared from some boiled eggs in the refrigerator. I intended to eat egg salad. I ate a few bites, but the taste was off, so I stopped. I tried again, and I didn’t have to the stomach for it. It occurred to me, I am eating bird eggs.
Twenty years ago I became a vegetarian after a spiritual fast, mainly because I completely lost the taste for fish and meat of any kind after the three weeks were over. I remained that way for many years, but eventually added small amounts of fish to my diet. It has only been in the last year that I even tried to eat poultry; I had no desire for it before then. I didn’t enjoy chicken that much so I haven’t been eating it. Eggs were something I usually only ate when it was in something else, like baked goods; boiled or fried eggs were not appealing enough for them to be a regular part of my diet.
I have not been able to eat another egg since that day; it hit me that there was a connection between the owl I found on my porch, and the eggs sitting on my plate. It seems that once again, I need to examine what I am eating and why, and that might result in a more vegetarian way of eating. I have to decide if not eating animals is as much of a moral dilemma for me as a matter of taste and preference. For now, I intend to avoid eggs; I never liked eating them alone that much anyway, and I still cannot get the image of the shivering owl out of my mind. That encounter forced me to acknowledge the connection between my food and other creatures and examine my relationship with not just the part of nature that includes the flowers and plants I love, but the animals that make the outdoors their home. I am not certain where this journey will take me.