Updated: Jan 13
My pre-adolescent years were spent in the English countryside, and so my playground had few boundaries, and certainly no tarmac. My brother and I would venture out through the woods, and out onto fields, exploring potential den sites, peeping into bird's nests, and climbing trees.
My Dad- an aspiring Ornithologist would bring binoculars on dog walks, quizzing the family on various species of birds. Whilst Mum, would earnestly (but not always accurately), try to recall the difference between a Sparrow and a Common Reed Bunting.
My brother: a doctor in the making since the age of three, would collect abandoned eggs, and drag rotting Crow carcasses onto makeshift surgical tables. Why? To be examined and dissected of course. I - a keen helper would happily assist, fighting the urge to gag, as he'd explain the functions of disembowelled organs- much to my poor parent's dismay. Anyway - lets just say my bird anatomy lessons began early on.
Jokes aside, birds have always been given an almost ethereal pedestal in my family. When my parents converted their Barn, they made sure to build around the resident Barn Owl's nest, installing a webcam so we could watch their little Owlets make their way into the world. When a car killed one near to our house, a local Taxidermist was asked to resurrect him to his former glory. My Granny believed that a frequenting Robin, was indeed grandpa Frank saying hello, and she- the Matriarch of a large, happy family, was destined to come back as a wise, old Owl.
This is a lot of background blurb, I know! But by now you’ll be putting together the pieces of the puzzle, as to why I have become this crazy bird lady. Bear with me though, I have only touched on who truly inspired me to dedicate my practice to these beautiful creatures.
My Granny B, was truly loved by all who knew her. She was mischievous but honest, loving but strict, and always put great emphasis on the importance of family. She would love to entertain our imaginary games as children. Her painful back did not stop her from sitting beside me, offering to help construct impressive fairy houses made out of twigs, moss and leaves. We would leave breadcrumbs out on fairy-sized tables and acorn cups filled with water- you know... in case they needed some refreshment! Her love of all little critters and creatures left me in awe of her. She explained the importance of nature, and how Bees, however nasty their sting, were also very good friends with the fairies. I was to treat every bug, beetle and bird with the upmost respect, and to this day I have lived by this rule.
As you can imagine, saying goodbye to Granny B was hard. My family had only just thrown her a surprise fairy birthday party in Switzerland when she was diagnosed with Terminal Cancer. Retrospectively we couldn’t believe the timing of it all, and how lucky we were to spend those precious moments with our wise, old Owl.
Defying the odds, Granny soldiered on for a couple more years- much to her Consultant's surprise. However the inevitable soon crept up on us, and the news of her rapid decline fell upon us in the summer of 2015. We rushed to her side, where we spent what turned out to be the last week of her life. That week, whilst her body painfully shut down, she spoke to us all, smiling in her chair, with never a complaint. Filled with pride, she looked over her children and grandchildren, and seemed at peace knowing she had created such a wonderful family. I know that death is not always this kind, but Granny was also incredibly strong, and pain was not going to stop her from enjoying her final moments with her family.
When the whirlwind of her death and funeral had abated, her children went to scatter her ashes in the fields outside her house. It was a mild, summer’s day, and as they went to say their last goodbye, a usually nocturnal and shy animal, surprised them in the sky. It was a Barn Owl. It soared above them, lingered for a moment right in front of them, and then went on it's way.
Sometimes its ok to forget science, forget ‘reality’ and simply enjoy an idea that makes you happy. For me that idea, was that our wise, old Owl came to say Hello. The idea that birds are flying souls, not only brings me comfort, but reminds me of the circle of life, the importance of nature and my mission to protect it.