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Posted In: Features

Owl encounter offers hope for renewal

Scott Turner

July 9, 2013 10:55am

The horrified barred owl looked on from a safe distance as the tree in which she had laid her precious things was noisily disassembled by chainsaw and rope. She squawked out her disapproval, but we were compelled to continue.

The northern red oak where she had built her nest, a dead tree now for at least two years, had graduated from shedding small dead twigs and limbs to hurling large parts of itself damagingly to the earth below. The fence at the back of the yard, already staved in once by this slowly disintegrating giant, had recently been breached a second time by falling hunks of dead tree.

The mother barred owl.

The mother barred owl.

Things were getting serious. This tree skeleton was not only dangerous to the property of its owner, but was also a threat to the neighbor on the other side of the fence. It had to come down.

We didn’t know the nest of spotted owl eggs was there until our climber found it tucked into a notch 30 feet or so above the ground. A tree service, and a tree climber in particular, is occasionally in the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous position of handing out abrupt eviction notices to Virginia’s tree-dwelling tenants. With no small show of indignation, most of these squatters, young, old, or with child, turn tail and run, jump or fly off to new homes. Far more complicated it is when the tenants have not even opened their eyes to the world outside their prenatal encasements. It’s a major weakness in the egg-birth system, I suppose, that a threatened mother cannot make a getaway with her unborn offspring in tow. The mother of these eggs continued to concentrate all of her agony into piercing shrieks as her nest was brought down to earth and taken away by strange hands.

After a few anxious phone calls my clients found a none-too-optimistic wildlife rehabilitator who agreed to take the eggs in and try to incubate them. The owl eggs were carried 30 miles away, and I never heard about them again. Meanwhile we removed the tree down to a safe height where it was no longer a threat to the surrounding humans. The drama of this 2012 spring day spun itself away in the turbulent wake of my charge-through life. I forgot all about it.

800px-Strix-varia-005But then at a swim meet a couple weeks ago my friends who had made that desperate drive to save the owls eggs brought me the wonderful news that this spring there was a new baby owl in their own back yard! I suddenly found myself thinking about that mother again. How long did she circle the spot where she had last seen her eggs? How long did she rub her eyes, pinch or peck herself, or do whatever it is an animal does to wake itself up from a nightmare?  Her eggs were gone. Her purpose was gone. How long did this owl mourn or attempt to deny this painful past before deciding to look for new hope and purpose in the sunrise ahead?

Not long, apparently. After the season for sorrow a new season awaits. Nature forever seeks renewal, and re-birth. Nature helps me understand how to live.

About Scott Turner

Scott Turner enjoys the simple life he lives with his wife, Amy, and two young daughters in a lush, urban forest near the banks of the James River in Richmond, Va. After travelling the world for five years as an enlisted member of the United States Navy, Scott earned a Master's Degree in Physics from VCU before turning to a career as a certified arborist. He has been the owner of Truetimber Tree Service since 1998 and added an outdoor outfitting business called Riverside Outfitters in 2005 to share his love of trees. The company emphasizes recreational tree climbing, river play, and a return to good, old-fashioned fun.