Late Spring last year, around dusk, I went for a walk up the hill that climbs behind our house. The road is quiet and there was no one else around. I was enjoying the cooling air, not really thinking much about anything.
When I got to my regular turning point, I stopped and look-up at the treetops, watching the tall branches lazily swaying in the breeze. The Pacific North West may be grey and wet in the Winter but during the rest of the year it’s pretty damn close to idillic.
Ambling slowly back down the hill I heard a swooshing sound followed by the sight of what, at first I thought were the tail feathers of a crow. I was about to call after it, telling it that it was a cheeky blighter, when I realized that the bird was not a crow but a large owl. Moments later I heard the sound again, but this time I felt the rush of air from beating wings, as a second owl passed over, this time no more than inches above my head. Instinctively I hunched, pulling my ears into my shoulders.
I lost sight of both birds in the gloom, but guessing I must have inadvertently come close to a nest, I quickend my pace. Another ten seconds passed and then the sound came again, this time I felt the bird come within inches of the top of my head. Scrunching down even further and walking like Groucho Marx on a mission, I tried to get out of the danger zone. Not taking any chances, I grabbed my collar and yanked my jacket up over my head—just in time, as the second owl swooped again to brush the the tips of its talons across my coat. By then I was a hundred yards from where I estimated the nest must have been, but they still hadn’t finished with me. On their third and final dive-bombing the first owl did it’s best to try and rip my coat from my head. If it had succeeded it’s mate would almost certainly have scalped me! As it was, it settled for leaving a set of grooves in the leather of my jacket.
Only after I’d covered a further couple of hundred yards did I allow myself to turn and see if I was out of their territory. Fortunately they were nowhere in sight.
When my fear abated and my breathing steadied, something odd happened (in some ways even stranger than being strafed by owls protecting their young)...I was suddenly filled with the most extraordinary sense of gratitude. At first I couldn’t fathom my response and then it dawned on me.
I had quite literally been touched by the natural world. Not only had I had an amazing experience but I felt like the whole thing was steeped in some mythological significance. That night I lay awake wondering what I was meant to understand by the occurrence.
I never did decipher what it meant (not consciously anyway), but then again why would I. After all, I grew up in the suburbs of London, and what do I really know about the sign language of nature?