I’m standing in the driveway of the house where we used to live in Norfolk
It’s morning and there’s been a sharp frost. The gravel beneath my boots is bonded together by ice. The sky is pale grey. The air is cold in my throat. I see my breath rise up in visible wisps.
And then the barn owl floats in on my left side.
Not just silently, but broadcasting silence – like another thing might scatter sound.
I tell myself to be still, then, as it flutters past, it turns its face and looks straight at me; palely beautiful and inscrutable.
It’s only interest in me is in assessing any potential threat I pose and it quickly decides I am of no interest at all.
I watch it floating away across the lawn, past our arthritic old apple trees, and on towards the dirt track leading up to the little cluster of houses on our hill; spectral now, already becoming the ghost of itself.
Laying in hospital last year, racked by anxiety following my stroke,this memory comes to my aid, over and over. I recite it to myself like a prayer.
It dawns on me that the barn owl’s disinterest is the very thing that brings me comfort. It reminds me that I am not important at all – and nor are the noisy thoughts that vie for my attention most of the time. This revelation quietens my hyperactive brain for a few wonderful moments.
I see that when I am in an encounter with a wild creature my mind gives itself over entirely to that experience. I am still – in a way I almost never am.
Coming out of hospital, angry, scared and sad, although mercifully free from serious long term damage, I return again and again to that morning.
I try to find the words to describe the experience and the memory of it, working and reworking them to myself in my head or, occasionally, out loud into my phone as I wander the eerily quiet lockdown streets.
It helps. It doesn’t cure me or save me, but it helps. Finding words for the stillness makes me still.
For a while at least.