This past summer while on vacation, my husband and I took a walk in the woods with our dog. I’ve walked this particular path hundreds of times – the woods are on property my extended family has owned since the 1940’s.
Anway, it was dusk and we wanted to take the puppy out for his evening constitutional. The sun had mostly set; it had been a clear day and it promised to be a beautiful evening. As we entered the woods we heard an owl, and as we walked deeper into the darkness, we heard the owl (or what we presumed to be the owl) following us.
I love owls, and I give J. K. Rowling a good bit of credit for that. I also love them because I think they are beautiful, and they eat mice and insects and make a pretty sound. But for some reason, this owl spooked me a bit. I don’t find the woods scary, and I wasn’t alone, and I love owls, but something was amiss.
It was the puppy. At the time the dog weighed about six pounds. He’s a little thing and always will be. And this owl was following us, and I didn’t know if it was just being friendly or if the puppy appeared to be a tasty morsel.
Now I know most owls avoid puppies for dinner. Or I think I know that. Just writing that I worried that the owl would eat my dog makes me realize how ridiculous the thought was – a bit like that scene from the original movie The In-Laws, where Peter Falk as the maybe mentally imbalanced CIA agents tells Alan Arkin as the hyper normal dentist about the time the giant tsetse flies flew away with the babies from the village.
Still, my husband and I turned around, and I carried the puppy, and we left those woods.
What made it amiss was the realization that I was responsible for a vulnerable creature. Our dog was with us, and we needed to protect it from whatever real predators were out there. The problem is that I don’t know if the predator was real or imaginary.
Everyday people have to decide how to protect the vulnerable from predators imaginary or real. We’re doing it right now with Syria; we do it as we think about how to spend taxpayers’ money in aid programs; we do it as we clarify rights for the mentally and physically disabled. We do it with our kids and with our elderly and with those who look so normal and fine who a few of us know are really in anguish.
The threat of the owl seemed so real; the vulnerability of my puppy was so real. And there I was, at the end of dusk, trying to see what to do.