Whoo-dunnit?

Photo credit: Bill Detmer

One of the pleasures of living here at MeadowKnoll is the close company of animals, some domestic, many wild. Over the years, we’ve raised cattle, sheep, geese, ducks, peacocks, guineas, chickens, dogs, and cats. Our 31 Hill Country acres are a permanent home to coyotes, raccoons, possums, nutria, foxes, deer, squirrels, snakes, and (unwelcome!) feral hogs, among other smaller creatures. It is on a north-south Plains flyway and hosts a gazillion migratory and resident birds, including buzzards, hawks, and owls. With all these occupants, it wouldn’t be odd if sometimes there were territorial disputes: who goes where and when, who nests where, who eats where and what.

Most recently, it was the who-eats-what that confronted us, for one of our chickens came up missing. Rhodie Red was a beautiful Rhode Island Red hen with shiny feathers and a stunning red comb and wattles. She laid luscious dark brown eggs. She was the single survivor of a pair of Rhodies, her sister having been killed by a small but ambitious snake who caught her asleep on her roost in the coop one night. He was big enough to kill her, but not quite big enough to eat her. We buried her with full honors.

Rhodie Red disappeared without a trace–without leaving a single feather behind–just before sunset one evening, when the chickens were all in the back yard, close to the house. Molly (our heeler) would have alerted us to a dog. Coyotes and foxes don’t come into the yard. And Rhodie Red was too big for our red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks to make off with. We’ve had chickens taken by stray dogs, but they’ve always left a trail of feathers to mark their getaway route. No feathers marked the site of Rhodie Red’s abduction, however. It wasn’t until the next week that Bill found a few red feathers under the Bois d’arc tree at the edge of the woods–which also happens to be a favorite roost of one of the great horned owls.

So I’m guessing that our who-dunnit has been solved. Rhodie Red was snatched and eaten by an owl, some of whom grow quite large here. I miss her, yes. She was my favorite of this little flock, always ready to be picked up and cuddled. I’ll miss her eggs, too, and her cheerful cackle.

But it doesn’t seem a terrible fate, somehow. If I believe that we are what we eat (and I do), I must also accept its corollary: We become what eats us. If Rhodie Red was eaten by an owl, she has become that owl, has become not just a temporary meal but part of that owl’s cellular structure, its hollow bones, its blood and skin, its astonishing feathers, its terrifying beak, its claws. Part of its magical life, its haunting call, its fierce, silent flight.

The next time I hear an owl, I’ll think Maybe this is Rhodie Red, transformed. I will be glad to have shared such a fine young bird with such a splendid creature. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind becoming an owl, myself.

Reading note: Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are] Anthelme Brillat-Savarin Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1826

More (and fascinating) reading: Was an Owl the Real Culprit in the Peterson Murder Mystery?

29 comments on “Whoo-dunnit?

  1. I have an OT question: Are you allowed to say which Nancy Drew Mysteries you wrote? The Wikipedia page for Carolyn Keene says you were one of the ghost writers, but in the book title list below the text, your name is not there.

    • Bookworm, you can find the list of my Nancys and Hardy Boys here: https://susanalbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Susan-and-Bill-Book-List.pdf There are titles of mine and also those I wrote with Bill. Look for Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon. The Wikipedia page does NOT include books written after 1985, when the Stratemeyer Syndicate was bought by Simon & Schuster and Mega-Books began packaging the Case Files.

      Thanks for the question. I’m going to do a longer post on this subject, soon.

      • Wow, such a list! Thanks! I found my Nancy Drew books from my childhood, and my DIL has huge stack of them, so I was going to read one to relive my adolescence a bit. Icing on the cake to read one by you!

  2. Your story was touching but I can’t agree with it. FYI I grew up in the country and still live in the Hill country. I believe that domestic animals must be protected because they are not “in nature” but are in our care. Also I can not believe the chicken is now part of the owl except in his digestive tract. Her little spirit lives on as it always was, independent ,yet in the care of the Father. Apologies to have inserted a little religion in there.

    • Thank you, Bonnie. I believe that we may leave the farm but the farm–at least, some important memories of it–never leaves us. We’re lucky to have had that time there.

  3. Such a beautifully told tale of appreciation for the natural order, Susan. Thank you for transforming what might have simply been sad into something uplifting, taking us to that bigger picture, as you always do so well.

    • Thanks, Story Circle! You’ve taught me how to look for more. And then more and more. And it’s always there, isn’t it?

  4. As usual, a great tale told by my new favorite author! I am such a “city” girl, born and raised in metro Detroit where livestock was completely out of one’s frame of reference. However, having since migrated to north central Arizona, we have seen our share of creatures, most of which I cannot name. It takes me a minute to recognize a goat.

    However, I know cats. I have five now – Simpson, Shaun, Merlin, Maxie, and Magoo. I do love cats.

    Keep up the great personal and publishable tales, Susan!

    • Thank you, Charlotte. Gotta say that it’s probably more important, in our place and time, to know cats rather than goats or pigs or . . . Five cats is a houseful. Love their names, Charlotte, especially Magoo. Who remembers Mr. Magoo?

  5. You look at the world through such a lovely lens, Susan. A beautiful story! And I love what you are doing with your new blog.

    • Thanks, Mary Jo. The new blog is a pleasure–much easier to use, faster loading, and (best) it’s tied into the website. I’ve needed to do this for a long time, just never got around to it.

  6. I remember long ago reading a comment about the eater and the eaten becoming part of each other–Rhodie Red is now looking out at the world through Owl’s eyes, sharing a perspective and seeing vistas she had not dreamed of.❤

    • We hear the Great horned owls more often than we see them, Jeanne. But when we do see them, they’re magnificent. We once watched a pair mating in a mesquite tree. And I’ve read that they can take prey bigger than they are, as big as a skunk, for example. I miss Red, but it’s nice to know we have a resident owl.

  7. Good post. We lose barn cats to marauding and sneaky red fox. Or Coyotes. We are never sure. I’ve never considered owl or hawks. Perhaps a red tail is large enough and I hear owl hoots frequently. I will need to rethink the predator problems.

    • Agree: never sure–unless we just happen to be on-scene when the deed is done. We once came on a snake with one of our peachicks in his mouth. Very clear evidence. He was convicted and deported at once–no appeal.

  8. I love how close you are to nature and your philosophical approach to the cycle of nature even when you lose a favorite animal. How beautiful and amazing it all is.

    • We’ve lived here a long time, sicahue, so it’s easier and very comfortable to watch and listen and learn what’s going on around us. And both of us (Bill and I) keep journals (and compare notes). It’s an important part of the magic of the place. Yes: beautiful and amazing. We feel privileged to live here.

  9. I grew up on a farm in Central Iowa and now live in the country in NW Connecticut. There used to be quite a few animals and birds around here, but in the past few years they have disappeared. There was a bear in the neighborhood who visited everyone’s feeders so I took ours inside. I’ve seen one squirrel and one chipmunk. Several deer, but not often. Few bugs, too. I’ve stopped eating red meat, but can’t give up bacon yet.

    • The decline in bird and insect populations is disheartening, Carolyn–everywhere on our continent (and probably the globe, as well). Too many humans, taking up more than our share of space, food, resources. I think we’re all trying to learn to live more lightly, but it’s hard. We’ve given up bacon, but I still drink milk and we have red meat every couple of weeks.

  10. I loved that very special story. It made me sad about your Rhodie Red though, since I love animals so much.

    A great story! Thank you for sharing with us!

  11. That is so sad Susan, but I have to tell you that I am intrigued by owls! We don’t often hear them here, but one morning very early I was sitting outside with morning coffee, and I think I was listening to a rather romantic exchange (or was it an argument?) between 2 owls sitting in separate trees. It didn’t last long….they both flew away in separate directions!

    • Linda, good to hear from you again! Love your report of an owl discussion–maybe bickering over the boundaries of their territories? We once watched a pair mating–they flew in separate directions, too! 🙂

  12. You have a fine forgiving imagination when it comes to the birds around you,,but I wonder if any of the four footed creatures would have gotten off so easily?

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