Half dark, half light,
The dusky red and orange sky,
The majesty of the evening light
Welcomes us, enthralled,
To nature’s auditorium,
This festival of sight.
We find a spot to wait it out.
A half moon looks on,
The best seat in the house.
The stage is bare,
The lights dim.
First a murmuring, an awakening,
In the wings semi-nocturnal arguments erupt,
Like rowdy teenagers, they interrupt
In high-pitched discourse,
These loutish delinquents of the sky.
Then more, the noise swells,
Hubbub, babble, a commotion brews.
And then, look, in the sky,
Silhouetted against their fire red canvas,
The aerial acrobats stand by,
Thugs, no more.
Twisting and turning,
Rising and falling,
Like iron filings shaped by a magnet
They dance the evening by.
The shapes, the shapes they make,
These acrobatic artists of the sky,
Painting their canvas with hope and light.
Pulsing, breathing as one.
One flash a dragon,
The next, a whale, a dolphin.
Black then grey,
Dark then light,
An otter! A throbbing, living, moving spectacle to thrill
Their devoted crowd.
Fleeting images, never still
But vibrant, full of life.
Living sculptures in the sky.
And look, another group
Late to the scene but keen to make up time,
They race across the stage
In hot pursuit.
But soon, too soon,
The darkening light.
Like dancers at the end of the night,
Their energy spent,
The ballet ends.
The speckled hoodlums return,
Like rowdy clubbers arriving home
They rest in trees, in reed beds,
Still keen to chat the night away,
Their acrobatic displays
Consigned to memory,
Teasing us for another day.
And we, our weary way we wend,
Cold, but warm from the glow
Of this natural pageant,
This circus of life.
I’ve always loved barn owls. So, when a pair took up residence in the nook of a tree close to my garden early last summer, attempting not to resign myself to lockdown gloom, I was eager to see them. Every day on my lockdown walk, I stopped by the tree and looked upwards. And it wasn’t long before I found one, perched on a branch no doubt thinking about what to catch for breakfast! What I didn’t realise then, though, is what effect these birds would have over the next few months on my mood.
There’s definitely something about barn owls. Something the ancient Greeks took as good fortune but the Romans read often as a signal of imminent death! Is it their heart shaped face? Or their piercing scream? Or is it just the fact that you only ever tend to catch a brief, ghostly glimpse of them as one swoops past you in the dusky half-light?
Whatever their attraction, my interaction with these birds definitely improved my mental wellbeing. Stopping every day, looking closely and finding these magnificent birds was making me feel happy. I didn’t know how but it was!
What does the science say?
The science is very clear. The evidence suggests that being in nature has an enormous effect on our brains and our behaviour, helping to reduce anxiety and increase creativity and attention span.
Researchers in Finland found that people who lived in a city but walked for twenty minutes a day in an urban park or wood reported much greater stress relief than those who walked for the same amount of time through the city centre.
Science is even beginning to point to the fact that being in nature makes us kinder and more generous.
In a study published in 2014 at The University of California, Berkeley, participants were exposed to scenes from nature (which had been independently rated for their beauty) and then they played two economics games to measure their generosity and trust. Those who had seen more beautiful natural scenes acted more generously and trustingly in the games.
So, clearly engaging with nature is good for us.
What can we do to connect with nature more often?
The mental health charity, Mind, has plenty of ideas (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/ideas-to-try-in-nature/) :
You don’t need to go looking for a barn owl in the countryside, of course. Spending a bit of time each day in the park could be a simple place to start. Stop to watch a squirrel clambering around in a tree or a dog chasing a ball.
Or just get outside near your house and look at a spider building a web or a goldfinch eating from a bird feeder.
However you manage to be outside, stop, look and you will find nature. Do it regularly and you’ll feel the benefits.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch a glimpse of a ghostly white predator hunting in the half-light.
Without hesitation, I recommend James for editing, proofreading, grammar and, most importantly, the simplicity of his use of language which delivers the essence of the words. I wrote my children's novel in my native language and then translated it into English. My next challenge was to find an English literature specialist who could help to naturalise the language. There is no doubt James was the perfect candidate to do this job!
Sabah Willis, author