May Bliss

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Bog owls on the verge of darkness

We had been shooting goats. I sat alone for a few minutes as the dust settled. My friend had begun the slow, abrupt descent back through the scree to fetch his vehicle, and the silence rushed up to smother the sound of his retreating footsteps.

There are times when beauty collides with itself and becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In the soft gloom of that late May evening, I lay in the deep heather and watched a pair of bog owls displaying above the far horizon. The two birds flew with strange, exaggerated wingbeats over the white grass, performing to themselves in distant silence. The dull, mesmeric calls were lost behind a rummle of water in the burn, but every moth-like plunge and swerve was recorded against a slate grey sky.

With exquisite timing, a roding woodcock began to labour round in patient loops above his beat. I hunted for him against a maze of fiddleheads and birch scrub, and finally picked out his piggy shape as he dodged through a city of treetops. He was high but I was higher and could look down on his back from the steep, lonely face. His mate (and perhaps their strange, gawking chicks) would be somewhere on the burnside, lounging on a mattress of marigolds and meadowsweet. Veils of cool, dank air came up from the rushing water.

Grouse cackled in the gloom, and there was something like a lump in my throat.

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