I am wild yet tame. I’d like to believe there’s a wilderness, untouched, full of pristine materials and wildlife deep inside my psyche. Some primitive form of myself visits that place from time to time and has experiences my tame self can only dream of.
Heaven knows what wild me gets up to in that frighteningly unspoilt paradise. Perhaps I do all the things I did as a kid; physical things like climb trees, dive into deep river pools, run through woods like a manic deer, walk along tracks that lead out into silvery horizons.
But most of all I keep an eye on the birds. Then I know I don’t have to time myself, there are no deadlines or dates to keep, there’s no mess. There’s just colour, behaviour and puzzlement and last but not least, a mysterious wonder.
I was taking a pee indoors when out of the blue came a familiar yet totally unexpected sound – a tawny owl’s call. It was barely 5pm, an unusual time for an owl. How comforting to know that the shadowy, silent guardian of the night was still around, despite the white noise from the rush hour traffic and the endless days of soddening rain.
There’s been little opportunity for the owls to do the thing they do best, hoot into the stillness of a moonlit night before gliding swiftly down onto unsuspecting mice and voles. Wind and persistent driving rains have surely kept these silent swoopers oppressed and unable to hunt properly, which they do primarily through listening for small rodents in the undergrowth. Exceptionally big eyes also help.
I’ll never forget the first time I watched two young tawnies practice their hunting techniques. The month was October, the training ground an orchard, their prey large common moths and crane flies.
They were on the roof of a hen house which stood amongst large sycamores and oaks and smaller apple trees. In the faint light I could see them swooping down, first one then another, repeating the exercise until they’d got it right.
It was a riveting performance. When the darkness grew,
off they would fly, like velvet phantoms, back up to the higher branches of an oak.