New Owling

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Owls come out of a broken ash tree. A late brood has got away, and the youngsters hiss like a brush on a wet floor.

I was ill a month ago. I couldn’t sleep. I heard the owls from my bedroom window and I went out to watch them in the darkness. White shapes came to me like a fever dream, and I rolled my eyes and worked up some screaming temperature in the lee of a sodden field.

Barn owls; Tyto alba. I said “Tyto” and saw them turn with hours to spare before daylight, thumbing at my own thermostat and, having sat, wondering how I could ever rise and return to bed. But I was glad to see them, or make them out below the stars. Long, steady rasping and the certainty of meat and mouse-flesh in relay.

Now that family of owls has flown the nest. They might have blown away into the wind, but instead they’ve come closer. The barns have summoned them, so they make merry in the yard when night falls. I hear them tumbling along the gutters like monkeys. Even as I work into the darkness, their shapes glide back and forth across my window. One has bumped its head on the glass, and others peer through the glazing like cats.

I go to see the pigs before bed and find the sty rafters are occupied; I send three owls fleeing out through the lunkey and into the yard. They squall and hiss and tumble like idiot children. Everything in the granary is splashed with white lime and the pellets of rat bones and beetle shells. There’s a relentless turn of white wings and sombre eyes in the doorways, and when they come to shriek on the lintel above my desk, I can feel the sound buzzing in my ears.

I hope to find them at dawn, but they’ve gone – back to a broken ash tree like a shoal of sprites or spunkies.

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