White on white. Silent flight and silent fall. Warm blood, cold land. Slow arch-winged flight across the marsh: then a pause for thought. On one of his hunting-perches, looking around with a cold expressionless expression. Heart-shaped face just a little bit like a skull. Flakes falling all around but not disturbing for a second the seriousness of his dusk run.
A sight to make me pause as I mucked out the stables; a sight to make me wish I was a poet, the sort that could give a single word the weight of thousands. But the world is safe: I stopped writing poetry before I even stopped being a student, one of the wiser decisions of those years.
A couple of days earlier Cindy found a barn owl pellet in – well, the barn of all places, it seems the owl is as prone to cliché as I was when I was a poet. She has clever hands and so she tweezered it apart, to Eddie’s enthralment, creating a shrews’ ossuary: featherweight femurs, ribs like hairs, jaws of minute effectiveness.
The Hawk and Owl Trust – excellent people – put up a barn owl box in the lower meadow, so when I see a barn owl floating about I send it a radio message: des res, available rent-free to any deserving bird. The local barn owls took a hammering a couple of winters back: I’ve been willing them to regroup and move in.
There’s a new meaning to look for in the nature-poetry of the 21st century. We need a poetry based around scarcity, our awareness of extinction, our need to put things right for the sake of the planet, for the sake of our future of a species, for the sake of our souls and the souls of our great grandchildren. And perhaps above all for the sake of the animals themselves: a matter summed up for me in that brief epiphany as a white bird in a white land.
We need a nature-poet as good as Ted Hughes, as good as Gerard Manley Hopkins, as good as John Clare, to celebrate not just nature but nature’s conservation. Please tell me if you know who can fill the gap. And I heard a bird calling from the barn owl-box just the other morning.
It was a stock dove.