Sentinel of night

July 10, 2004

I was sitting under a tall oak tree I often sat under in the early evening in a little grove in the wilder part of the Garden of Memoriam, when I noticed an elderly couple making a beeline towards me. As they got closer the woman said:

‘Ah, I see somebody else knows about it then.’

I was a little confused.

‘Knows about what?’

‘Oh, we assumed you knew about it, sitting there, we assumed you were waiting for it.’

‘Waiting for what?’

The old man looked up.

‘It’s here already my love, been watching us.’

‘The owl,’ she said, ‘there’s an owl at the top of the tree, we’ve come to see it the past few evenings.’

I stood and looked up, the oak was very tall, my eyes lifted to the first large branch, the second, the third…

‘Where is it? I can’t see an owl.’

‘Right at the top,’ the man said.

Sometimes you think you’re looking at the top, but then the top is much further up.

‘Oh yes.’

A tawny owl, large black eyes boring down into me, it had been aware of me, of these people, for some time. It was an instant communion. Great joy to look at the owl.

This was when I lived on the third floor in an attic. The next night I was walking around the Garden of Memoriam at dusk and noticed the owl flying from church turret to oak. I heard it calling about 2 in the morning through the open windows overlooking the memorial garden. Eerie and beautiful. There was no-one about, it may as well have been calling to me, so I answered it as best I could.


I had split up with a lover a week before, I found the owl a comfort, a pleasant distraction from my sorrows. I would go and sit under the owl’s tree at midnight, but I never saw him at the top again, I would just catch his silhouette flitting across the sodium sky. I sat on the ‘slave’s grave’ in the middle of the night in the moonlight allowing small twigs to drop through my fingers, an unconscious gesture of letting go.

On the way back to my flat I saw many daffodils in a garden that looked lovely in the full moon and I dragged one through a fist-sized hole in the wire-mesh fence. I brought it back home and put it in a vase of water. I had just set the vase down on a dusty fireplace altar where I had been burning incense in my sloping roofed bedroom when I glanced out the open window to the rooftop bathed in moonlight. The owl was sitting on a chimney pot looking at me, not five feet away. I sat down slowly by the window and we just looked at each other. He seemed a great sentinel of night, as if he had been watching me for some time on my nocturnal wanderings, and recognised me and knew all about me, and now had specifically sought me out. In his slow blink I forgot all about my troubles.


[Nice MP3 recording of tawny owl, male with female in background (300 Kb)]