Owl Territory

Did you know that owls are territorial? That you cannot simply rescue a poor half-starved abandoned baby owl, bring it home, feed it and keep it, nurse it back to health, and then bit by bit release it, half tame, half wild thing, into your apparently owl-free garden?

In the clash between wild things in a very small piece of original forest behind the camping area at the sailing club, you might be lucky enough to pay attention to the unusual noise from monkeys and birds. You might be surprised to see a mean old male monkey heading down a tree trunk to pick up something, some wet and weak thing, some bundle of bones and feathers trembling in the grass at the base of the tree. And with a shout, and instinctive waving of arms, you run to save whatever it is, to find what pathetic little thing is causing such outrage. What enemy-of-the-common-creatures do the furious birds and apes see in this odd shaped thing, so barely alive?

Once you have picked it up, held in your hand the trembling, the heart beat against bird-breast ribs, well then there is no putting it back. No way to put it back that isn’t murder, that isn’t handing it over to the survival of the fittest justice of the furious wild mob.

And so it makes its way back to your city garden, and the boys must surrender one football goal to be made into an owl cage. Ungratefully it pecks furiously at the hand that feeds it, refuses to eat what is offered, and turns its head 180 degrees to avoid the tasty morsels procured for its eating pleasure, as if trying to screw off its head like a bottle top and throw its life away.

But starvation is on your side and slowly Owl is won over. Her feeble calls become slightly louder, and in the football goal a save, a life starts to return, and shifts about, like a little old man, from one leg to the other. Feathers start to be preened and there is a rustling and a bustling in the cage, and demanding shrieks and screeches at dusk when you approach.

Fearfully you make the first moves towards restricted freedom as owl walks wide eyed, with wings out stretched at odd angles, restlessly moving about the bottom of the cage. Disaster strikes, and in a clumsy flurry of wings and claws suddenly she sits, a ball of feathers, turning her head round and round and blinking at the wide, free world.

But again, hunger works its magic and at dusk the next day, there she is, sitting on top of the goal-cage, screeching for dinner, moving rapidly and excitedly from leg to leg. A new routine is established. All day she sleeps in the tree above the cage and at dusk she comes down, sitting precariously on the clothes line, screeching and calling for meat, nipping at your hand in sadistic tenderness, clutching at the slight swaying line and allowing a little rubbing of the neck before she departs for the night.

But one evening you feel suddenly the cold shudder of your neck hairs standing on end and you know someone is watching. Somewhere furious, luminous eyes are taking in the scene. On the telephone pole at the corner of the garden a large frowning owl watches the evening feeding and you sense he has been watching for some time. When you turn away a dark shadow and the swish of wide silent wings brushes past, and little owl tumbles from the washing line in shock.

For the coming days Owl trembles in terror in the vicinity of the cage and house while the great owl patrols the garden, and there is nothing to be done. No intervention you can make in the natural order of things. You see them less and less and one day in the not very distant future little Owl, now grown big and healthy, but still no match for the great owl, is gone.

Later, you will sometimes see, after the first rains, an owl, sometimes two, walking around on the lawn at night, like old men inspecting the garden. Heads bobbing, as if in conversation, they stroll about the dark garden, picking out of the grass the oily, flailing bodies of flying ants. And you always wonder, is it Owl? Is it Owl with a mate? Does she remember the feel of a human finger tickling her neck and the taste of meat served at the washing line?


Dhaka 2013

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