Monday, December 21, 2009

31 Calling Owls

Monday December 21, 2009:

Its 12:45 am. It’s the middle of the night for this early bird. Yet the city is still singing. I stand in my garden, wrapped up against the bitter northern wind, teetering on the glass smooth ice. A shift of balance and I’ll be over! I allow my knees to be loose as I carefully balance.

I’m seeking the owl. Twice I’ve heard him at dawn, several times in the middle of the night. His aloof hoot sometimes hard to hear and once early in the morning before the day had woken, shockingly loud and very very close. Tonight, it’s police cars, fire engines and ambulances that are howling against the darkness of the winter’s night.

Only the northerly wind shakes the twigs crossly as it skims across the frosty garden. I retract into the warmth of my thick duffle coat and stretch out my ears to hear behind the city scope, to the voice of the wild beyond.

In the lull before the next bright burst of wailing, the trees shake in the wind. The ice crackles as though someone stealthily steps along the path. Beyond the boundries of my hearing, something wails; is it a baby crying, a dog whining or a cat yowling … or is it something altogether more primeval, raw, and wild?

I quietly hoot under my breath. Only the wind whispers back, hissing like a breath, indrawn in protest because of the bitter cold.

The frost is sharply sweet, like damp earth translucently diluted by ice. Is that the smoky waft of a cigarette spinning across the garden next door? I breathe in deeply and the cold sears my nostrils achingly. The sweet green odor of ivy softens the acridity of petrol fumes wafting along the street beyond the house.

I imagine the silent owl; high in the ash tree beyond the fence. His hearing sifts the spaces between the yowling, howling city to the quiet crunch that might be dinner, stealthily creeping its way between the stiff leaves of the shrubs behind me. The breeze touches them and they clatter thinly.

I reach out to touch. An ice-hard teardrop of snow shivers on the leaf before it slides into my warm bare hand, there to melt away. The foliage is brittle, starched and bitter-feeling.

I imagine the owl, his wings stretched out, swooping down from the tree, down into the undergrowth to pounce on something small and scurrying, warm and alive and soon to be his supper. I hoot quietly again and stretch out my ears to hearer an anseringcall; but none comes.

A mile away, the crouch End clock tower chimes once. The wind lifts the sound and delivers it to me as though to say,
“Not an owl but a bell, will that do?”

I reach down and touch the concrete owl sitting squatly on his tree trunk. He is glassed with ice and frozen into stillness. Carefully, I trace his eyes, ears and beak, gently wiping away the frost rind.

The owl will not sing for me this night, it seems. So be it. I bow to the owl and carefully crunch my way down the garden path to the backdoor.

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