This evening driving back from an agreeable afternoon of chocolate, coffee and great conversation I had an encounter that I think ( hope) will live with me for a very long time.
I was driving home humming along to some music in the half light. That light where if you could only be certain there was no one else on the road you wouldn't bother with headlights at all because what you see with the headlights obscures what you could see in the shadows. That light where the edge of the light is the most interesting place but when you are driving a heavy fast thing, responsibility means you have to alert others to your presence.
There were few cars on the road, but it is a very hilly and winding one, the presence of the lights from other vehicles a forewarning of their heavy lethal unnatural automated arrival. It is a great road for making the most use of the curves and feeling the gear changes, using the hills as they fall away from the tyres to full effect. To physically experience the drive.
As I approached the brow of a hill there was something odd in the shadows between one long white stripe and the next, something unexpected. I slowed my approach aware that about half a mile behind me at speed was another car. As I crested the hill just at the top I realised what it was. Before me nearly in the light was an Owl. It was about 9 inches tall and somehow unnaturally stationary. I felt the air escape from my lungs and a tingling in my stomach. I stopped, the Owl turned to look at me. It was alive. I breathed in.
I put on the hazard lights and considered my next option. Not only was the owl at the top of a hill from my direction, from the other direction it was around a blind bend. The benefit of the lights in the darkness was that hopefully my hazard lights blinking yellow along with the white dipped headlights would be visible enough through the trees to forewarn any other vehicles and their human inhabitants of my presence. Otherwise there would be two squished creatures on the road, which would not have been good for the Owl at all.
I got out and walked towards the Owl. As I got closer it became obvious it was a baby. I felt an inward tug. In the distance I could hear the car that had been following me approach up the hill. It had evidently seen the hazard lights because the indicators had gone on to overtake. I decided how far I needed to step into the car's way to ensure the Owl was not harmed as my lights would have obscured the bird's presence. The car slowed and went smoothly past me and the bird.
In one sense I was relieved the presence of another car had not startled the bird into dangerous movement but in another way I knew this meant the creature was mesmerised and confused. I stepped back towards the bird. As they do the OWL turned his head around nearly 180 degrees and I gazed down into the wondering of its big round yellow and black eyes. His feathers were downy, fluffy like fur, soft and new, a soft grey. The beak was hooked but tiny.
I do not know if it was wonder or fear I saw as I looked into those amazing, vulnerable and curious eyes. I do know I was seen. I was properly looked at. I was considered. I looked around to see if there was a parent in sight. Hard to do, in the dark but up in a nearby tree I could see a mirrored shape, I sensed a presence before my eyes rested on it. I could see the mirror shadow shape, so whilst I looked at it, I have no idea if it looked at me. It was definitely connected with my Owl on the road and I believe it was watching the scene. Still the baby Owl did not move. Could it fly? Was it transfixed by fear, confused by the hard concrete of the road? Or was it physically harmed? I hoped, if I had to touch it, that the parent above, having witnessed the scene would not care. I bent down, not certain exactly how but planning to pick up the owl with it's soft down and little pointy beak and take it across the road to the trees below the Shadow Guardian. I considered the beak and told myself " I can take it pecking me, but I have to get it off the road." The owl's head flipped back and looked hard at me. There was a noise from the tree, the Shadow owl. The baby turned away and stretched out the feather down wings. A gentle, calm reach and in slow motion the bird stepped forward, with the gentlest downward push from the wing the Owl was off the road and into the trees beyond. The Shadow Owl had disappeared from the branch and the sounds from the trees told me they had connected.
Relieved,and feeling immensely honoured and glad I stepped back into the car and finished my journey home.