One February I was taking a walk on Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. It's a long beach with high sand dunes behind the beach. As I approached the end of the beach I saw something white partially buried in the sand. At first I thought it was going to be a plastic shopping bag but as I got closer I could tell that the white was feathery. I assumed I was about to see the remains of a gull. However to my surprise it turned out to be a snowy owl.
I pulled the dead owl out of the sand and dusted her off. As soon as I pulled the owl out and brushed her off I could see that she was so white and beautiful. She had shiny white feathers with a lot of black bars. The feathers were soft. The neck was floppy but the rest of the bird looked intact other than its lifeless condition. The body was cold but not yet stiff. It was so light. The owl did not look starved but she appeared so weightless for her size.
I wondered what had happened to her. After some time examining her, I guessed at a broken neck, either from a hawk attack or a storm. If hawk, why was she so intact or not pulled apart? Perhaps she had been slammed to the ground by the strong wind of a gale. We had had one a few days before. But she seemed too freshly dead for the gale to have been the answer to her demise.
As I held her I began to wonder what to do with her. I was gladly all alone on the end of the beach. No one had seen me find her. Should I take her to the beach headquarters where they might examine her and notify an interested wildlife expert? Should I bury her in the sand? I did not want others to find her. I felt she deserved to be respected and was afraid she might not be.
As I was contemplating what to do, with the owl in my arms, stroking her feathers, I felt eyes upon me. Some one was watching me. I had a real sense that a pair of eyes was on my back. Some one was in the dunes behind me, watching me holding this dead owl.
As I turned around to look into the dunes for the spying eyes, I saw a flash of white at the top of a nearby dune. And sure enough as I looked up, there behind the watching eyes, was a whiter and slightly smaller snowy owl. He was looking right at me. He looked fully alert and focused on what I was doing. I realized at that moment what I was doing was hanging on to his dead mate.
Wow. It was a clear moment to me that I needed to put her body down and leave him in peace with his mate's remains. I tucked her behind a dune where he could still see her and get to her easily. I placed her where she would not likely be seen by other February beach combers. Then I left them.
As I walked away I turned around once and saw him flying down off his dune towards where I had left his missus. He probably knew what had happened to her. He would know more than I how to honor and respect her death. Perhaps the sand that had partially covered her body when I found her had been placed there by him and not by the wind. This was his moment not mine.