Now that I was divorced, unemployed and living in my childhood bedroom, I had finally figured out a great Saturday routine. If I wasn’t running too late, I stopped by one of two Starbucks roughly 80 yards from each other on Santa Margarita Parkway. Then I drove to the Orange County Bird of Prey Center in Silverado Canyon and donned gardening gloves. With fellow volunteers, I picked owl pellets out of gravel, hosed down plywood enclosure walls and scrubbed rotting poultry off AstroTurf-covered perches, all while trying to avoid the talons of swooping owls, kestrels, eagles and other assorted creatures of the air.
The birds were flummoxed, even offended, by our intrusion, and afterward were given frozen mice as a reward for their patience. My reward was a hot shower and the knowledge that the raptors were recuperating in nice clean cages. Or, as is the proper term for falconers, in nice clean mews.
But really I was looking for something deeper among the birds: I was trying to figure out how to heal from a divorce. And maybe how to find lasting love and a fulfilling career. That’s all.
The center was located on the grounds of Rancho Las Lomas, a property sprawling with orange groves and tiled courtyards, a place where, coincidentally, I had married my college sweetheart five years earlier. Perhaps it was this accident of geography that made my volunteer work radiate significance, at least to me. Or maybe it was my English degree – all those Homeric bird auguries.
The birds were situated under a canopy of eucalyptus. Permanent residents, typically human-imprinted birds unable to return to the wild, lived in large metal-barred cages, while those injured by power lines inhabited plywood enclosures with mesh roofs.
Encountering every falcon, owl, eagle was like meeting a celebrity, an entity I had seen only from far away, now up close. And each bird had a story. I learned that Isis, a massive female red-tailed hawk named for the Egyptian goddess and not the Islamic State, became confused by her urge to mate each spring. She would call down wild males and then kill them through the bars of her cage. It was a Greek tragedy in feathers, but what could it mean?
Meanwhile, the owl mew was a relatively peaceful place. Barn owls and great horned owls watched us wide-eyed, adjusting their heads in broad, flat circles, from time to time swooping silently across their enclosure in groups to resettle on an opposite perch.
The accipiters on the other hand –…