Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Mr. Owl

I have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan many times. In fact I own a DVD of the movie. The story is about eight WWII soldiers who go behind enemy lines to find and retrieve a missing paratrooper, Private James Ryan, who's been ordered home because his three brothers have already been killed in the war.

To avoid a public relations fiasco, the Army orders that Ryan be found and returned safely to the USA. As the men make their way deeper into German held territory and encounter varying levels of resistance, they ponder whether their or others' lives are worth the risks being taken to find and save Private Ryan, a young man they don't even know.

Now this is not about that movie or saving a soldier. Instead it is about trying to save a baby owl who fell from a tree.

Mr Owl’s story started the day I had a job interview in Dallas. My first priority after the interview was getting rid of a tie which had a choke hold on my neck. Next was fighting the rush hour traffic back to Fort Worth so that I could change into more comfortable clothes and head to the park nearby with a nice cold drink. At the park, I stopped my car underneath the branches of a tall oak tree and sat there in the quiet for a few minutes before making a few phone calls and switching on the radio to listen to some of the crazy callers to Austin’s KLBJ talk radio.

The wind picked up a bit and I wondered if it might rain later. Texas weather is like that. It can change in a heart beat. Leaves dropped from the tree loosened by the wind and my gaze fixated on something that dropped out of the tree after one strong gust. I stepped out of the car and a large baby bird had dropped to the ground flapping its wings. Fascinated because I’d never seen this before, I looked closer. It was about fifty percent bigger than a fat dove and appeared to be some type of owl. I had seen baby birds who had fallen from their nests into the grass below but never one of that type or size.

I stood for a few minutes watching him. He tried to fly a couple of times. He flapped his wings going a few feet but never back up to the top of the tree. The wind gusts became more frequent and he shivered even though the temperature in late afternoon continued to hover around 100F. He could not fly back to the safety of his home in the nest. I knew the poor creature’s fate was doomed. The pretty grey bird would soon be dinner for a hawk or a neighborhood cat. Already, a Coopers hawk perched on a limb just to the left of my car.

I’m not a big animal lover or even a pet owner, but something that day made me get out of the car and stoop down to take a closer look at that grey owl. As I gazed down at him, his big yellow eyes looked back up. He made no sound in the ever blowing hot wind and I went back to my car preparing to leave him there. But I did not sit for long. I got back out and went back to him. I reached down with my hand and petted him a little. He did not squirm or try to flee. Then on an impulse driven by the need to soothe him I scooped him up. Maybe it was a feeling of compassion and pity, I still don’t know. I carefully got in the car and placed him in the passenger seat. He simply sat there and did not move. Maybe he was in shock, or tired, or scared.

Making my way slowly up the hill from the park, I pulled into my driveway and took the little guy inside. I tried to recall some of the things from the cable TV shows on nature and wild animals and tried to feed him. He sat on the counter by the sink as I chopped up some turkey with a little water. His beak remained firmly shut. The little owl remained silent looking up at me with his big yellow eyes. I got a bit sad and then worried. I wanted him to eat something and be okay, really better than okay. I had no idea what was involved in the care of him or how I could keep him until he was big enough to be on his own. Bringing him home was, again, some unexplainable impulse. There I was, a 51 year old man who really didn’t like animals with a baby owl in my kitchen. But I had a bird who needed care even if I had no real plan. He was this helpless little creature who otherwise would surely die.

I gathered my thoughts and did the only logical thing. I called my daughter, Jane, who majored in marine biology and loves all animals. She would know what to do with the owl in my kitchen. I pulled out my cell phone and called her. True to form she didn’t answer so I Ieft a detailed and perhaps desperate message to call me back. I tried once more to feed the owl the turkey mush and got a piece in his mouth which he would not swallow. He just looked at me again and made no sound in the quiet of the kitchen.

The phone rang and it was Jane. She asked me how the owl was and started telling me to call the Fort Worth Zoo and the Texas Wildlife Department who might be able care for “Mr. Owl” and save him. I then called the two numbers. Of course it was after 5PM so no one was available. Great, I thought as I picked up the phone to call Jane back while I looked at the still silent little owl.

Jane picked up and we talked more. My cell phone beeped with an incoming call, my mom of course, who it seems always calls when I am in the middle of another call or in the bathroom. Jane and her boyfriend were doing some web searches and got me a number of a local lady who apparently saved birds and other wildlife. I thought that was great. Perhaps there was now a real solution to saving Mr. Owl. I called the lady hoping for the best. But she said she could not take the bird that night since she was sick and lived over 30 miles away. Again, I thought the owl was doomed. But no, the lady gave me phone number of a friend just a few miles from my house. He said he would take Mr. Owl the next day at 9 AM. I hung up very pleased at what I had accomplished and sat down for my dinner. The little owl remained too quiet and I became concerned. Following Jane’s directions, I dug through the closet for a big shoe box and made a bed for him. Getting him to the man in Keller was my main priority.

I went to bed late since I actually stayed up watching the line of storms to the north which belched out sheet lightning that reminded me of a scene from Saving Private Ryan. In the movie the small platoon of soldiers put in for the night in the ruins of a church before continuing their search for the elusive and still unknown Ryan. Flash after flash of artillery lit up the clouds in the dark sky, the rumbles of the guns were like the distant thunder rolling across the heavens over my neighborhood. Quiet alternated with growls in the evening as the sky lit up. Quite a soundtrack to save the little owl.

Before I turned out the lights I checked Mr. Owl once more. He was sitting in the shoebox still silent and not moving much. I looked at him and he looked up at me. I wondered what he was thinking as I closed the box’s lid before turning out the lights.

The sound of thunder, strong wind, and pelting rain on the roof woke me at 3 AM. The storm sirens were going off, signalling the severity of the storm. I got a bad feeling then. It was not a feeling of fear about the storm, but instead a feeling of fear about Mr. Owl. I turned on the light in my bathroom where I had placed him when I went to bed, opened up the box and looked down. Mr. Owl was still. He was dead and stiff in the little nest I’d made for him with one of my T-shirts to keep him warm. Sometime in the five hours between turning out the lights and the storm, he had passed. Maybe he had some injury from falling from the tree, or died from shock but he was gone and I was sad.

In the movie and its fantasy setting Private Ryan made it home. But in my little part of reality Mr. Owl did not. I felt good about trying to save the little bird, and Jane reassured me I had done everything possible to save him. But I couldn’t help questioning why I felt so sad and had shed a tear over him when I gazed at his little dead body. Maybe the fact that the baby bird was helpless tugged at my heart. While I am not, by any means, humanizing Mr. Owl, he seemed to be saying “help me” with his gaze; I can still see his big yellow eyes looking up at me.

In the end I think this event showed me that in life we should try to save little things that cannot save themselves. And I too, just like Mr. Owl, am not so big in the universe. Maybe one day, I might need someone to save me if I fall out of my own warm, comfortable nest or tree.
Jeffery Turner is member of Greater Fort Worth Writers and has written two books.
Notes to Stephanie: Middle Aged Love Letters And Life Stories and Notes to Stephanie, Days Remembered. He is busy writing his third book. In his spare time he is a photographer and has his photos on Red Bubble

 His books may be purchased at Amazon  or Barnes and Noble

Thanks for stopping by. Have you ever cared for a wild bird or animal? Share your experience.


Anonymous said...

This was such a beautiful story. Your description and the way you're able to write emotions is great. I was pulling for Mr Owl.
I hope you are writing more stories like this.

Anonymous said...

I liked the theme of your story and the compassion you showed the little owl. I couldn't help but wonder if our current GI's might feel like the characters in Saving Private Ryan.

Ellis Vidler said...

You tried and did your best for the little owl. Sometimes it's not enough, but it's all we can do. It was a bittersweet story, but I'm glad I read it.

Jeff Turner said...

Thanks for the kind comments above. Like I wrote in the story itself I am not a big pet or animal lover but something drove me to try to help out the little guy. You can see another animal story in a note in my second book (Days Remembered) titled "Toby The Cat" (I think it is here on the blog too). Yeah, some critters do tug at my heart. By the way the picture in the piece is Mr. Owl. JWT

Kimberly Walton said...

Very nice, Jeff. I'm so sorry Mr. Owl didn't make it, but there was a reason you found him. Thank you for sharing.

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...