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Tree Child

Story by Ellen Ensley Created 2002-08-06
Page 17 of 19

Chapter 17 - Dead Oak

One still, hot afternoon, I headed out to the houseboat to clean up from a deck party we had the night before.
I was still smiling as I thought about the events of the prior evening. Several of our friends had joined us for steaks on the grill, and a nice fire in the Mexican stone fireplace. The seasons were changing from summer to fall. We still had hot days, but the nights were getting cooler... and very pleasant for outdoor entertaining.

In the middle of our little party, Sushi made one of his surprise appearances. The owl landed right in the middle of four couples. They immediately scattered in all directions. One of our guests actually had his leg over the dock railing and was prepared to jump into the marsh before we stopped him. We had warned our guests about the owl. But, they didn't believe a huge owl might appear in our midst out of the dark.

Once everyone settled down, and got a good look at Sushi, they all dashed to their cars for cameras. Sushi calmly posed for everyone on the back of one of the chairs. He was enjoying the attention, and the commotion his appearance had caused.

Steve and I knew that he was just waiting for one of the men to walk off into the woods to "water the plants", so he could play his prank. They did, and he did. We heard a lot of grown men scream that night! Everyone had a good belly laugh. Since we had to work the next day, and it was very late when everyone left, some of the mess from the party was left to clean up the next day when I got home from work.

As I approached the deck that afternoon, Sushi dove at me. This dive was different. The owl kind of ran into me, hard, instead of just whizzing by like he normally did. That wasn't like Sushi at all. I had instinctively ducked, and the owl glanced off my back and shoulder. "I thought you could fly better than that!", I said as I stepped onto the big outside deck. It was unusually still. Not a breath of air was stirring.

As soon as I stepped onto the deck, I picked up an empty can in a coozie from the round bar table, and started to walk across the deck toward the grill, to pick up more dishes.
Suddenly, Sushi attacked! He came straight at me me over the top of the grill with both talons towards my face! He wasn't going to stop. I stumbled backward and threw my arm up. Sushi crashed into my arm, lost his balance, and fluttered away. He didn't sink his talons in, he didn't attempt to bite me, he just crashed into me. I wasn't hurt, but it was quite a shock.

Not only was I astonished at his behavior. I was very, very, concerned. This wasn't my Sushi. Sushi had never attacked a human. The owl regained his composure and flew off the deck. I was fussing at him the whole time. "What's wrong with you?! Don't you ever do that again!!" His attack had driven me backwards to the other side of the deck away from the grill. Once Sushi flew off, I headed back towards the grill, concern growing in my mind.

As I headed toward the grill, again, Sushi attacked from the same angle. He whizzed straight at me over the grill, talons out, even more forceful than before, with a horrendous screech I had never heard before. This time I was actually frightened of the bird, as I stumbled back again from the assault. Sushi had almost a 6' wing span, with a beak made for tearing meat, talons bigger than my hands, and sharp as razor blades.
This owl could easily injure me, if he chose. I couldn't run, I was backed up against the deck railing. I defended myself the only way I could. I punched the oncoming owl in the chest with the only weapon I had - the empty can in the coozie. The momentum of his attack, and the force of the punch, caught him in mid-air. He fell to the deck. Once again, I wasn't hurt. But, I was really scared. My heart was pumping so hard I felt it in my temples.

More overwhelming than my fear, was the thoughts running rapidly through my mind. All the time we had spent raising the baby bird, training it to go back to the wild, was wasted. He couldn't be free if he was going to attack people. I thought of the little boy next door, and the frail elderly couple. Sushi would have to be captured and taken to bird sanctuary where he would be locked up, and never fly free again.
I was sick. Even though the bird had attacked me repeatedly, I was afraid I might have hurt him with the punch to the chest. Although a big owl looks awesome, their bone structure is very frail.

After recovering from his fall to the deck, Sushi flew up to a limb on Sushi's tree, opposite of the grill on the other side of the deck, where his attacks had originated. He was garbling furiously at me and dancing back and forth on the limb in an extremely agitated manner.
As Sushi perched above me on the limb, I started berating him. My heart was breaking. "No, Sushi!!!", Bad, bad, bad, bad owl!!!!" "What's wrong with you?" I was shaking my finger at him, up at him. "No! Bad Sushi!!!" I had tears in my eyes.
Sushi calmed down and sat in morose silence, staring at me sadly. I didn't know if he was going to attack again. I was stealing myself to run for the houseboat if he came at me.

Out of nowhere, there was a horrendous crash right behind me! I was peppered with debris. The crash sent the owl flying off across the yard and my heart lurched into my throat.

As I whirled around, I saw a giant limb had fallen from the huge old dead oak tree that towered above the grill on the other side of the deck. This monster limb had crushed the top of the grill, splintered the deck railing, and smashed the Mexican stone fireplace into a million pieces. The limb was so big, it covered half of the deck on which I stood. It probably would have killed me if it fell on me.

But, it didn't fall on me. Sushi had deliberately, and repeatedly attacked me to drive me away from that side of the deck. Birds will attack their mates to drive them away from danger. Sushi knew that limb was going to fall. The birds incredible hearing must have told him the limb was cracking. Sushi had been out by the deck all day. I never heard anything but the final loud snap before the limb hit the deck.

I understood what Sushi had done. The owl kept me away from the grill and that side of the deck the only way he knew how. He drove me away from danger. I felt terrible! I had cursed the bird, and even hit it in defence. The whole time he was trying to save my life. Other than a few bleeding cuts on my legs from flying debris of the tile fireplace, I was alright. I was alive, not crushed under that limb.

Immediately, I went in search for the owl. My heart was till pounding hard from the fright of the crashing limb, and my knees felt like jello. Sushi was no where to be found. I didn't see the owl again for two days. When I saw Sushi again, he had silently appeared next to me, and was simply staring at me. I don't know how long he had been there.
As soon as I saw Sushi, I apologised and thanked him. As I told him what a good and brave owl he was, he preened. Then he turned his back on me. Sushi was not going to forgive me easily. He was going to make me wallow around in my guilt for a while. He didn't garble at me for a few days. Then everything went back to normal. Sushi never attacked anyone again. He returned to be being his fun-loving self.

This time Steve didn't give me that LOOK. It sounds crazy to apologise and thank a bird, but when Steve saw the destruction from the limb, and realized the owl had kept me out of danger, he was grateful to the owl also.

"Throughout human history, owls have variously symbolized dread, knowledge, wisdom, death, and religious beliefs in a spirit world" - Owl Pages - Owls in Lore and Culture

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