The Owl on the Highway

I was bone tired. All I wanted to do was get back to my friend’s house where I had been staying, have a glass of wine and then crawl into bed for a couple of days. I had been up for almost 24 hours now, catching babies at the maternity hospital where I had been moonlighting in Rumford, Maine. There had just been an unprecedented tsunami of births, which I assumed must be the aftermath of the autumnal Full Moon.

It was dusk and I could barely keep my eyes open as I drove down Route 2 back to Bethel to my friend’s warm and cozy home. As I drove, a tractor-trailer going in the opposite direction passed a large pile of feathers in the middle of the highway and whipped up a huge wing that signaled to me. Splayed barred feathers with an enormous wingspan. I slammed on my brakes.

That was an owl’s wing!

I pulled over to the side of the highway and ran to the middle of the road. In the midst of the pile of feathers, a head with enormous brown eyes looked up at me. Oh my god, it’s a large barred owl and it’s still alive! The owl blinked and continued to stare at me. He must have been hit when he was after some road kill. Tractor-trailers were screaming by us on both lanes of the highway. I had to get him out of there. One wing was bent at an unnatural angle behind his body. I squatted down and gently righted the wing to lie close to his body again. I scooped up the whole bird and ran back to my car.

I assumed the owl was in shock and in the process of dying because he just continued to stare calmly, looking deep into my eyes with his ridiculously huge black eyes. He looked so serene. My heart was breaking for him. I rocked him gently and talked to him softly as I waited for his light to go out. He continued to look directly at me. After about ten minutes of this, I thought maybe he was still in shock and getting cold, so I sat in the driver’s seat and turned on the heat in my car. After some more minutes of being scrutinized by those liquid brown eyes, I decided to drive him to my friend’s house.

I called my friend, who was also a midwife, and told her to get her two daughters together to see this magnificent bird and to dim the lights and put her dog outside. I drove to Bethel still cradling the owl in my arms. I decided to name him Ovid.

I brought Ovid into my friend’s house where her daughters gently stroked his beautiful barred feathers and talked softly to him. I realized what a wonderful gift it was to be in the presence of such a powerful raptor. The girls were delighted. After some more time passed, Ovid was still very much alive. I said I guess we should bring him to the local vet to be checked out.

The local vet was a little vexed because it was after hours and he was planning on going home. He was talking too loudly for a dying bird, his energy was all wrong. He took Ovid from me, a bit roughly in my opinion, and proceeded to twist Ovid’s neck around, to see if his neck was broken, I assumed. Ovid did not like this vet one bit. Silently, and with the speed of light, Ovid pierced through the fatty palm of the vet’s hand with his razor sharp talon, clean through to the other side. I was astounded, but I also think the vet deserved this because he was so insensitive.

The vet hissed at me under his breath, “Get the damn talon out of my hand.”

The talon was like a thick, curved darning needle that had just effortlessly pierced through some semi-soft cheese. I pressed the pointed end of the talon that was sticking out of the vet’s flesh and it popped out backwards, a clean puncture wound all the way through. Ovid retracted his foot.

The vet was furious. I grinned at Ovid.

I said, “Give me that owl.” I grabbed Ovid and held him safely in my arms, turning my body away from the vet.

The vet pointed to a large cardboard box in the corner. He said I could put the owl in there overnight until someone from his office could drive the owl to a raptor rehabilitator in the morning. I declined his offer. I didn’t want this powerful creature humiliated like that.

I conned my friend into driving me to the raptor rehabilitator, even though it was an hour away and it was getting late. She and I gossiped about all the scandals at the hospital, what doctor was sleeping with which nurse, etc, the entire way to the raptor center. I held Ovid in my arms, lightly stroking his lovely barred feathers. The whole time he was gazing up at me with those saucer-sized round brown eyes.

My friend said, “That owl looks like he’s in love with you.”

“I’m sure he’s just in shock,” I replied.

We got to the raptor center, which was really a trailer in the middle of nowhere in Norway, Maine with a lot of cages outside. The rehabilitator was expecting us. I walked in holding Ovid and the owl expert’s eyes got pretty huge as well.

She said, “Hold on a minute.” She went to a drawer and put on some long, heavy-duty leather falconer’s gloves.

She grasped hold of Ovid around his legs and snapped him free from me. Ovid, as if waking from a dream, rose up to his full majesty and unfurled his wings and let out a scream, his beak huge and yellow. I could see his tongue. I fell backward from the compression of his four-foot wingspan pounding the air around him. Jesus!

Ovid hadn’t been in shock at all. He’d been mesmerized.

The owl lady said, “This bird could have ripped your face off. It could have been a disaster driving with him in your car like that. But, birds like this can also tell when someone is kind. He knew you were helping him. He could tell you weren’t afraid of him, so he allowed you to care for him.”

I knew then that Ovid had given me the gift of being able to protect him. I will truly treasure and dream about those bottomless brown eyes trusting me, for the rest of my life.

~ ~ ~

Fortunately, Ovid’s wing was not broken, only badly sprained. He stayed at the raptor center, recuperating, for three months. I got a letter with photographs of him being released back into the wild. My heart soared as I saw his big barred body and enormous wing span effortlessly gliding over the tops of pine trees to freedom.

 

Ovid the Owl and Carol with the raptor rehabilitator in Norway, Maine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Leonard

About Carol Leonard

Carol Leonard is a midwife, a writer and a licensed beaver trapper. She was the first midwife licensed to practice legally in New Hampshire and has attended close to 1,200 babies born safely in their own homes. She was a co-founder of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) representing all midwives in the US, Canada and Mexico. She was elected as the second president of MANA. Carol is the author of the best-selling memoir, Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, A Midwife’s Saga, Bad Beaver Publishing, 2010. Carol is currently building a 400-acre farm in Ellsworth, Maine with her husband, Tom Lajoie. Her blog BAD BEAVER TALES: Love and Life in Downeast Maine, chronicles their informative and funny journey building their dream homestead on 400 acres of wilderness in Downeast Maine. Carol and Tom are also raising about a hundred beavers there that they argue about on a daily basis. These blog posts will be a collection of tales not just about Bad Beaver the place, but stories that meander around in her life, past and present—at the same time, Bad Beaver is where it all leads. As a writer friend says, “These stories from Bad Beaver are, at turns, brave, beautiful and just plain badass.”