Yesterday morning I left the house before breakfast to sort out the horses. As I approached the stables I saw that there were shepherds in the field. Abiding. You know how they do. It was of course Jane and her partner, checking the sheep in the field next-door, because sheep, like horses, don’t take days off. We humans exchanged greetings, completed our morning chores and went back to our families.
I was back inside drinking a cup of tea and admiring things that had come out of stockings when the angel of Lord came down. Or a pretty good substitute: perfectly perfect white wings and a flight so buoyant it seemed that the ground repelled him, like the unlike poles of a magnet. This surely was not a creature of the earth.
It was a barn owl, a creature built for silent nights and especially for silent dawns and silent dusks, and it pursued its business in plain sight for some minutes before drifting off on some errand, having made a present of himself to us. Glory, I happened to notice, shone around.
It was a little later in the day when a Chinese water deer appeared in the garden and he was sore afraid. Or so it seemed: he rushed into sight, performed a 180 and then rushed straight back in the direction he had come from. It was like Harpo Marx.
By the late afternoon my head was full of cold and it felt as heavy as a bowling ball, but I went out to do the mucking-out all the same. I saw another or the same barn owl on one of my passes with laden wheelbarrow; I’ve seen two together in the last fortnight and the signs are good.
I felt pleasingly virtuous as I did the jobs, the hay, the water, the short feed. But to tell the truth, mucking-out is the one chore I’ve never for a second resented, not even on Christmas Day. After all, horsey jobs are all about keeping the horses alive and that has always seemed to me a good thing. Besides, it’s no bad thing to spend time in a stable at Christmas. I believe there’s scriptural precedent.