Nation Diary: In the enveloping gloom, a tawny owl howls and retreats


In the morning hours, the rain returns, tapping against the panes of dreams. Birds remain huddled in their roosts, and early traffic ripples down from Broseley. They flock out in the first moist glow as the weather breaks.

Beyond the clouds of the horizon at dawn, what is not fire, what is not day, burns.

A cool, washed-out thing, coaxing something not-natural from the water, is the sunlight of the new normal.

From ponds and streams a mist grows.

It flows uphill, pale and smoky, following the old green furrow of a road that centuries ago had been cut out and abandoned. It was once a place of wild, festive gatherings that looked like a pasture with a few tall linden trees and a clump of thorns. The mist deliberately flies up like a processional breath to gather above the trees in the open ground. The day is quickly over, leaving none of itself behind but the clink of gold crowns in the ivy and the echo of gunshots.

The darkness is filthy with mud and mystery. A buzzard glides on a hill against a boggy glare to the southwest, darker than the edge of the forest, a thought just out of reach.

Therefore, whistle. Back whistle it. The buzzard meows, and while the sounds are so distinct, he arrives, spinning short spirals in the lighter air, lifting towards the hill on the central heating updraft over the school buildings until he is above it. The buzzard makes a speculative turn to examine the whistler in an end-of-year wind, then swings north without delay or wing movement over pines and the cold quarry hole.

It’s already mild enough along the way that the bats thread their crevices between the branches, and the ghost claps for the near-touch of the wings and their ultrasonic grins. Three tawny owls, one in the woods, one in the lane, one in the field, shake their calls, triangulate their stance. The tawny owl, silhouetted in an ash tree, throws its head forward and howls three times.

It retreats into the darkness with the rehearsed urgency of a quarry blaster who has lit the fuse in a borehole with black powder.


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