So there I was, after 3 fast food meals, 7 days away from home, and 12 hours on the road, scrubbing owl poop from every carpet, tile, couch, pillow, book, table, counter, and LEGO in my house. My kitchen smells like a pet store. This owl’s Santa game sucked. My living room smells like an Arby’s parking lot. This is not how I wanted to come home.

Of course, I was sad about the small beautiful bird carried out on a child’s shovel. The soft feathered back. The weighted head. The face I couldn’t bring myself to look at. My bedroom smells like Miss Havisham’s wedding reception. I was pissed at this owl. My staircase smells like The Penguin’s lair. What was this owl thinking? But I did feel bad for her.

I’m not a monster.

I ZzzQuiled myself into oblivion at 11:00 that night because, as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t stop thinking about the little owl adventuring down the chimney, bursting through the fireplace screen, amazed at the abundance of clean surface upon which to defecate, then flying alone through a silent house. Upstairs. Downstairs. Room by room. Testing every window. Confused at seeing the outside, her home, but not able to get there. Panic. Fear. Hunger. Weariness.

I replayed it over and over: the owl’s escapade gone tragically wrong; my homecoming turned wake. I was dead tired. The owl was dead.

It’s all very disturbing, but now several weeks later, I should be over it.

If it was just the one owl, perhaps I might be.

*

Last winter, I watched a white barn owl flutter to the ground, look around before walking to the hedge, lay down, and go to sleep. She never woke up. She exited the premises by shovel as well. (Read about the other owl here)

Then there’s the horse. I keep tabs on Guinness, the 30-year-old stallion nearest us in the paddocks. His solid shape is a fixture out of the landing window. We see him every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to sleep. God bless him, he’s old and he’s fallen several times since we’ve lived here. If he’s laying down, we know he can’t get up without help. I’ve thought him dead many times.

Earlier this month, he was down and when I left to go grocery shopping he was still down. His people stood over him looking defeated. When I returned home his paddock was empty.

I eulogized that animal all morning. Why are all the animals dying around me? AM I a monster? I consoled myself with the fact that we not only feed the barn cat, Tibbs, who belongs to no one, but also bought her a delightful little Snoopy house to shield her food from the elements. See? We love animals, God!

In deep mourning, I hauled the laundry upstairs and paused dramatically at the landing so I could gaze at Guinness’s empty grass. His poor horse friends. They won’t understand. I ran my eyes over the rest of them. Honey, Max, Harry, Coco, that new brown guy, the white one I don’t know… what the– Guinness?!

Yon ancient beast LIVES!

*

The little owl haunts me. In here for days, alone, confused, despairing until she wedged her head beneath the kitchen door and died, inches from the sky behind glass… While washing dishes, I stared out the window waiting for the water to warm. An owl landed on the path.

Mrs. Peacock gets it

I wouldn’t say the loveliness of these creatures meant nothing to me before, but I promise they mean much more to me now. No one wants to be the House Where Beauty Dies.

*

I haven’t yet watched the popular reboot of All Creatures Great and Small. I loved the original show as a kid and loved the picture book, Only One Woof, also by James Harriot. See! I love animals, God! Where the Red Fern Grows, Black Beauty, Because of Winn-Dixie, Island of the Blue Dolphins (have you read this one?!), My Family and Other Animals– people can learn a lot about humanity through animals and the way we respond to them.

By the way, I just got up to walk across the room and murder a big-ass mosquito trapped behind the door’s screen. He posed exactly no threat to me, and I bungled his execution with repeated blows of increasing lethality. Poor bastard was the Thomas Cromwell of insects.

“That’s me.”

But he was in my house. The Fishburne Rule is: we don’t kill bugs outside because that’s their world, but once they enter OUR world, we are James Bond. The slugs know this, yet continue to enter. I don’t technically kill them because they’re just so damn gross, but I scoop them up and hurl them as far as I can. It can’t be good for them.

I just read Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy. That child brought home all sorts of creatures and not only celebrated their lives, but appreciated the art and design of how they died. His pets sometimes died accidentally, escaped, or ate each other. Their bones were valuable to him. He was fascinated by their guts and learned from their carcass. The Durrell house was a revolving door of life. No sooner had a cherished pet died, than he found himself in possession of a litter of puppies he’d inadvertently rescued from being buried alive. Christina Fishburne will never find insects or gastropod mollusks beautiful. Baby donkeys, baby hedgehogs, baby owls, puppies brought back from the grave– with those I can get on board.

*

My home is not dissimilar to my heart.

The Hideous and Terrifying will absolutely find its way in, whereupon I cheerfully and intentionally destroy it with whatever weapons I have.

The Beautiful wanders in and dies of varying natural causes but not before leaving marks on my spirit that don’t wipe away.

The Familiar and Ordinary Comforts stumble, expect disaster, and recover seemingly none the worse for wear.

Through some extensive Googling, I read when birds suffer illness or injury, they seek safe, secluded places hidden from potential predators. Well, who doesn’t?

“Yes, please.”

In Guinness’s case, he’s fenced in, so his disasters are public knowledge. That’s great when help can come, but tragic when we’re forced to witness when it can’t. The more I see him recoup from calamity, the more I believe he will continue to do so. I don’t want to be here when he doesn’t get up. I don’t want to run my eyes over the paddocks and not find him. I don’t want my fears realized. I don’t want my faith to fail.

The gorgeous hope that everything will be alright because I have Faith flies through the rooms in my heart. It tests the glass. It flies upstairs and down. It often feels alone and tired. The public display of struggle rising might take longer with the next big blow. However, if I need a safe, secluded place hidden from predators, I’m set. It’s ok to be the House Where Beauty Dies because all the best animal stories end with a new baby born, and all the best faith stories end with a resurrection.

Gerry Durrell

For the record though: Slugs are disgusting and I hate them. Sorry, Gerry.

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