I was collecting firewood when I found a dead southern boobook owl under a tree. I carefully examined the body, but found no sign of trauma from domestic animals or vehicles etc., so concluded that it must have been killed by a paralysis tick.
I was very sad because I adore boobooks. I love the strength and beauty of raptors, but also the mystery and magic they symbolise. I decided that I would bury this little owl in a careful way so that I’d be able to harvest its bones, and perhaps make some drawings of them, or just keep them as a curio.
I should explain that I have a fascination for natural history, and possess a very modest little collection of bones, skulls, shells, crystal geodes, heart-shaped rocks, birds’ nests, seed pods, pressed native flowers etc. . .and I knew the little boobook’s bones would be an intriguing addition.
So I half-filled a large box with layers of earth, compost, ash. Gently I folded the boobook between sheets of newspaper and laid it on top of the layers. I poured in more ash, compost, and soil. Then I covered the box with a piece of wood, and waited.
Six weeks later, the bones and skull were flawlessly bare and white – incredibly delicate and perfectly clean thanks to the organisms and grubs etc. in the compost.
But my triumph over death was not without its sorrows. The night following my discovery of the dead boobook beneath the tree, I heard a mournful sound across the valley – it was the boobook’s mate. It called all night, but of course there could be no reply. And then for the next 3 days, the poor little mate sat on the crossbeam over my verandah and cried for its lost friend. It was the saddest sound I’ve ever heard.
On the fourth day, when my heart could hardly bear to hear it any more, the grieving owl swooped off its perch and flew in a huge circle over my house, crying its haunting ‘Booo-book, Booo-book’. I stood and watched it glide over the valley in a great arc and finally vanish into the distant trees.