Once upon a time, back when I still had a car, my partner and I were driving on I-5. I saw a bit of white and tan flap at me from the shoulder, as if thumbing a ride. My heart sank as I realized it was the broken body of a barn owl. It was too late to pull over, but we took the next exit, and soon we were parked on the shoulder, wrapping the body, all but unmarked, and putting it in the cooler with the ice for the meat order we were on our way to pick up.
I had no idea why we were doing this, I only knew that the owl deserved better than to rot on the shoulder of a busy highway. We took it home, wrapped it in a square of muslin and put it in the freezer to give us time to think. In the end, I decided to take it up to Mt. Tamalpais, a good place to rest if ever there was one. I had been in the process of learning a song called “Waterlily” off a Cottars album I’d recently gotten, and so I found myself driving up Mt. Tam a few days later, singing the song and looking for a good place.
There used to be a beautiful oak by the side of the road, home to a beehive, and across the road from a really cool climbing rock. We’d often parked there, and while the oak had died recently, the parking spot was still there. I knew when I got out that this was the spot. The trunk had split, dumping blackened comb and leaving a large hollow space. I climbed up on the fallen wood around the trunk and put the wrapped body inside. I sang the song and wandered the mountain for a while.
Last Christmas we took a trip up there, and stopped at the oak, among other places. There is less and less left each time, of course, and the trunk is now short enough to reach from the ground, curling in on itself as it returns to the earth. Whether the small body is still there is impossible to tell, but this time there was an owl in the bark:
We went back up there yesterday. It was bitter cold, between the rainstorms. The wind was howling in off the Pacific and the sky was a million shades of gray. We could see the Farallones:
We quickly hit all the usual spots, including the tree. I wanted to see if the owl was still there. It is for me, in many different ways, but your mileage may vary: