I was walking up the street the other day when I heard something from above. It sounded like wood on wood, as if a drummer had just banged his sticks together. I looked up at a massive oak across the street– which seemed to be in the general vicinity from where the sound came– and saw the shape of a huge bird, perhaps an owl or falcon. It blended in perfectly with the trunk, and only for a moment could I see it’s outline as it took a giant, powerful step to the side. The bird vanished from my sight for a moment, and when I saw it again it was leaning down and into something, tearing and yanking at flesh with it’s beak.
It was a startling thing to see in downtown Toronto, this unadorned and pitiless majesty.
Had the bird taken it’s victim in mid-flight, plucking it from unsuspecting air?
Had it tracked it’s prey at great velocity, and then it’s sharp, sudden talons piercing the animal, and then the wood upon which the creature had been scurrying?
My eyesight is not great, and the bird receded back into the camouflage of the tree. I stared up at that tree– that tree which could have been two centuries old– for a long time, hoping to see that world flicker back into mine, but it did not, and this vivid life of blood and bone would remain known but unseen. A reminder on a cold, November day of this other world, of how quickly, astonishingly and with unsentimental finality, it will one day make it’s presence known to each of us.
On a winter day while hiking through the woods, Rachelle’s father Terry came across the imprint of an owl’s wings and body in the snow. From the tracks, he could see that it had been following a mouse of some sort, and then swooped down, picking the creature up from the surface and carrying him up and off to death. He took a photograph of the imprint, and it’s amazing to see such a moment crystallized, to see just the shadow of this small and brutal divinity.
It has always reminded me of this poem by Mary Oliver:
White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field
by Mary Oliver
Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.