“He respects Owl, because you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right.” – A. A. Milne
“Won’t you say a few words? Ain’t none of our folks ever been buried without a few words.” – John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”
I witnessed a burial a few weeks ago, from the digging of the grave to the placement of a natural stone as a monument.
The person who served as grave digger, undertaker and preacher will remain, for the length of this column, anonymous.
You may wonder why, and I’ll tell you. If certain folks knew, she could be arrested, fined and even serve jail time.
Let’s back up a bit.
My friend loves owls. She said she feels a spiritual connection, and I understand that completely.
Through the years, when she’s seen an owl that has been hit and killed lying on the side of a highway, she has stopped, retrieved the body and taken it somewhere quiet and peaceful to give it a proper burial.
Years ago, when she picked up the first of many dead owls to bury, she called the Mississippi Museum of Natural History in Jackson.
She was aware that owls, like most raptors, are protected. She wanted to see if there was somewhere she could take the owl she’d witnessed being hit by a car in front of her.
That’s when she learned that picking up or possessing an owl – dead or alive – is a felony.
Still and yet, she cannot stand to see these wondrous, wise animals left to rot on roadsides.
So, a few weeks ago, she pulled over and picked up a young owl, probably hit while swooping low at dusk to snatch its supper. She took it home, dug a hole in the winter-frozen ground, swaddled the body in newspaper, gently placed it in the ground, said a few kind words and covered the owl with dirt. A large bit of rock now serves as a headstone.
I understand the law is, in the big picture, designed to protect the animals my friend loves so much. My friend Mark, who works for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, explained to me this week why it’s a felony to posses an owl or an owl’s body. And I get it.
There are folks out there, unfortunately, whose intentions are not as pure as my friend’s.
This same friend, a year or so ago, helped another friend in a Tupelo neighborhood rescue an owl that had gotten caught in an old trap.
The two calmed the frightened owl, got it free from the trap and took it to a local veterinarian who does wildlife rehabilitation. We later learned the owl’s injuries healed and it was set free to soar once more.
If the two friends had been caught with the owl in their possession, would they have faced possible charges?
Follow the law or the heart?
My friend goes with the heart.
Every single time.