Yesterday afternoon when I stopped at the mailbox on my way to pick up the girls, a dead bird about the same body size of a dove was lying beside the driveway. I walked past it on the way back to the car, and suddenly a small detail registered: feathered toes. I retraced my steps, stooped to lift the ruffled body in my hands and found I was holding a small, grey screech owl, not long dead, still soft and pliable, one wing broken and hanging at an odd angle, one eye missing, but with no blood or guts marring its perfection. Its feathers were as soft as mist, softer than The Great Golden Sun Cat's white belly, so soft my fingertips could barely feel them at all. "Oh, baby," I heard myself breath involuntarily, "I'm so sorry." I laid him in the shade behind the mailbox, and on the way home stopped to pick him up, laying him on some papers on The Younger Daughter's lap in the backseat.
When we got to the house, the girls and I held him and gently admired him, straightening his broken wing and tucking it back against his body. We stroked his white and grey breast and with our index fingers traced his legs and feet, the feathers as fine as fur upon his curled toes. Carefully I lifted his "ear" tufts to show the girls what he would have looked like with them aloft, then smoothed them down again. At last, spade in hand, we took his small body to the northern creek where the screech owls call on summer evenings. The Older Daughter guarded him from Tongue Depressor Kitty while I dug a hole. We lined it with long autumn grasses, laid him in the nest and covered him over with more grasses and finally soft, rich dirt. The Younger Daughter said a prayer. We scattered dead leaves over the newly disturbed earth and left buckbrush, its arcing branches full of bright berries and paling leaves, on the grave.