One of my favourite things to do of an evening is visit Cuthbert.
During the summer, barn owl ranges are relatively small due to the amount of food available. Cuthbert, who lives at Chyvarloe over-looking Loe Pool, seems to have an even smaller rangr than this. I see him most evenings, hunting over a 6-field radius – a task which he is extremely successful at.
Barn owls provoke a lot of evocative writing; talk of their ghostly presence, ethereal beauty and love reflected in their iconic heart shaped faces. But whilst I love all these aspects about Cuthbert, my favourite thing about him is how loud he is. I first encountered Cuthbert when he flew over my head as I was busy looking at the ground for voles. The flurry above me made me look up, but I dismissed the commotion as another gull (N.B not that I have issues with gulls, I LOVE gulls, but there are a lot of them in the area!) until the bird opened its mouth and let out an almighty, piercing screech.
Since then, I have visited him many nights and he rarely disappoints. But what often attracts me to Cuthbert, other than the recognisable movement and flash of white, is how vocal he is. Cuthbert is loud. He shouts when he sees me, he shouts when he goes into the woodland, he shouts when he leaves the woodland, he shouts when he has his dinner…to be honest, it is a surprise that he catches anything at all, everyone must be able to hear him coming from a mile-wide radius. But I love the character it gives him, it really endears me towards him. He seems less inaccessible, like there is a chink in his seemingly perfect armour…
On Sunday, I was walking the fields when I saw him, diving behind a section of Cornish wall. I raced across the field, slowing down to an almost sneak as I got closer to the hedge. I hiked my leg up on the perch, and slowly peered over….but he wasn’t there. I heaved myself up on the wall and sat atop the Cornish stone, surveying the fields of grass and wheat, down the rolling hills to the water’s edge.
The serene moment was shattered by the distinct shriek behind me. Turning around, there he was; careening through a group of scattering gulls and shrilling about it as he went. He flew over the field before circling and heading back off in the same direction, another loud noise erupting from his beak. I was laughing as he disappeared off again, this huge presence in the area with a comedic touch affecting all other species he passes.
I returned to my moment of peace, the sky turning yellow as the sun dropped behind the hill on the horizon. All of sudden, the tranquillity was broken again as the sky is split in two by a white presence that moved between it.
And there he was. Cuthbert had been victorious in his evening’s activities, clutching a mouse between his claws.
As I watched him transverse the sky, off to his perch to enjoy his meal, I was caught momentarily off guard; because it was just him. Not some comedy show or clown of the skies. But as the light shone through his wings as they rhythmically rose and fell, I realised; he is all the things that have inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years, he is perfect.
But I still managed to see the funny side.