I’ve been playing dead my whole life.

And I get this feeling
Whenever I feel good
It’ll be the last time.
ICU – Phoebe Bridgers

I saw a dead owl today. It was stiff and on its back. Two legs stuck out of it, the feathered blob. It was on a path behind me as I walked my dogs. The path separates the manicured field from a small wild creek. At first, I thought of the internet meme that shows an owl sleeping on the ground. “Did you know owls sleep like they just got back from a night of partying?” the caption said. Probably in Comic Sans. But which way was that… face up? Or face down? I couldn’t remember. For a second I thought – Yeah, it’s just sleeping. It’s nap time, duh. 5 pm. It has rodents to rest up for. Party Owl stays up late. Creatures like this don’t die alone. Not like this, in the suburban wild, in this type of stillness.

But no, then I remembered – the meme was funny because owls sleep face down. Well, this one was face up so I guess it wasn’t sleeping. Anything with that many feathers should look regal. Instead, it was a caricature of an owl that wasn’t wise enough to escape death.

Last week on my walks, I kept seeing bluebirds. My dogs sniffed the trunks of trees and my eyes wandered to the branches. Bluebirds fluttered there, the sun highlighting their shimmers of blue. Never could get a good photo of them. A friend told me to see bluebirds was a sign of joy and prosperity to come. That was the meaning of seeing a bluebird. This was the significance of being a witness to a bird with blue wings.

The owl didn’t look very significant. Wondered what that meant. Unless it was used as a prop of my lost wisdom then, maybe. Who determines these things? Who adds the meaning? My dogs still hadn’t noticed the corpse. Their noses buried in grass, contentedly inhaling ants. They didn’t move as I pulled them away from the owl’s last rest. Finally, in what could be considered animal abuse, the harnesses that held their little bodies lifted them up and away as I grabbed them each like six packs of beer and marched across the field. Tiny chihuahua legs mimicked a walk but they dangled mid-air.

 As we left the carcass behind, a group of children ran by us. Coppola, my smaller dog, growled and barked at their laughter. Personally, I couldn’t stand the sound either. But there’s no use in warning them, Coppola. Eventually, they’ll find out about death. Leashes tangled as I finally set the dogs down, a safe distance completely across the field. As I worked to loosen the knot, a child’s shriek pierced the sky. Children started to form a semi-circle around the owl. Once dignified but never again to be significant, that owl. Then silence. 

The leashes untangled and a child whimpered, “Mom!” 

And honestly, that reaction made the most sense to me. Moms are good to call to soothe the oddball horror that can only be felt and never described. She comforts when mourning strikes, standing in line at the grocery store, grieving for security the world can’t supply. When the Burden is too heavy, it steals my breath as it suffocates – yes:  MOM!

Later, I looked up the bluebirds in San Diego and found out they weren’t bluebirds at all, they were scrub jays. Scrub jays. Wasn’t it the great musical trio TLC who said, they didn’t want no scrubs? Well, neither did I. There was no romantic significance of seeing a scrub jay. I checked.

That was significant to me.

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