Metaphysical Owls

Owl hoots… I haven’t heard them in a long time. Where I grew up there were two old elms. They were just stumps after the ravages of Dutch elm disease, but being hollow and tall, the owls used to nest in them. My childhood dreams were filled with hoots and screeches and I’d watch the shadows swoop from tree to tree in the twilight.

They’re fascinating creatures; even though they can see a mouse twitch under a moonless sky from a hundred yards away, they’re short sighted and need specially adapted feathers to feel their prey when it’s below their beak. They’ve twice the number of vertebrae in their necks as we do and their blood vessels have evolved to allow them to turn their heads by almost 270 degrees. They can see what’s happening behind them with a twist of the neck which is impressive and also slightly disturbing.

In idle moments I’ve wondered whether that vision allows them a glimpse into their past and future lives, if only for a few seconds. I’ve wondered whether they see the same world as we do or is their universe so panoramic, we could not imagine the view.

Seeing through another’s eyes is the stuff of Science Fiction. We can only imagine how others perceive the world. Our minds are closed to the sight of other beings, human or animal, but that lack inspires curiosity and fear in equal measure. Whether it is an argument with a loved one or clash of cultures, we are often left mystified and confused. The dark caves of the mind hide unfathomable experiences and reasons, and while we can empathise to an extent, knowing the mind and emotions of another is beyond our ken. The curiosity is part of our humanity, the fear even more so.

The unknown, uncertain world is crowded with fear; our own bodies adapt, adrenaline pumps through our veins, the fight or flight reflex triggers, the bitter-metal taste fills our mouths.

Those who would wish to do us harm, those whose views are so utterly different to our own, those people, they know this. It feeds their designs, it feeds their violence. The fear we feel is their most potent weapon. The bloodied bodies of their victims fan the flames of our fear. Their victory is complete when we are paralysed with the fear they instill.

Our own leaders know this. Our own leaders use the same fear to exert ever more control over the meek citizens. Our leaders keep us on edge; a security alert, a threat level, an imminent attack. Our leaders perpetuate the fear and use it to claim our support for their latest crackdown, for their latest invasion of our privacy.

If you think I’m wearing a tin-foil hat and talking nonsense, you only need to look at this island’s recent troubled history to see how fear was used to shrink the rights of those who dissented.

So what are we to do, in an age where we are petrified to board an aeroplane? What are we to do, if fear rules our lives and terror floods our minds?

If only we could spin our eyes and glimpse those few seconds into the future, or more importantly, look back to the past, with a far-sighted vision. Our history has made this fear. The terrorists of today are the disenfranchised and brutalised of yesterday. They are sons and daughters of prejudice and wars fought for oil and political influence. We cannot know their minds but we can work to create a world where the nests of terror in broken places are part of a distant past. Owls have a lot to teach us and I miss their calls.

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