Publié le 09.08.2016

The English Method

Dear diary,

I suppose that when you enter a forest, you are swallowed whole by a living body, slowly to realize you’re not about to step on inorganic soil for long. Your feet forget their urban upbringing and they shake their coil to recover their original and souple shapelessness. But at night, things go differently. In the darkness, you do not realize you have passed the teeth of the dead stumps, and sled through the moisturized tongue of the velvety moss. You find yourself in the belly of the monster not knowing how you walked in there. And as I fared as I could, trying to escape what digestive substance was probably going to attack me, I felt a strange wind stroking me, and instantly knew it was of unnatural origin. My spine began to crawl up my back, and I turned to face, sitting on a tree, a more surprising than dangerous barn owl that had just flown over me. It stared, as most owls seem to spend a considerable amount of their time doing, perhaps shocked by my attire, for itself looked very formal. Once or twice, it opened wide its black and gold wings, as if to shake dust out and not to take off.

And after two or three minutes of mutual, silent observation, it hooted and then I knew the source of the noise that had troubled my attempt at sleep; I was furious at the owl and it must have felt it, for it decided now was the time to part. But the barn owl left in a very odd way, lifting slowly and vertically by a frantic move of its wings, not plunging suddenly as most birds do to gain velocity and height. I decided to follow it; once again, I fail to understand now my motive that night, for today I would not lapse from my usual caution, I would go home, close the window and heroically ignore the noise and endure the resulting warmth. But I didn’t do so; and I walked deeper into the woods, till I entered, following the white apparition, a small clearing crowned by various tree branches connecting all the surrounding trees. And all over those were sitting two hundreds owls. With their enormous and somehow grotesque eyes, they looked right at me, with the air of surprise we naturally grant them, their strange clockwork-like rotative heads turned row by row in my direction. There was all matters of owlry, burrowing, short and long-eared, snowy, red, spotted, crested, stygian and tawny, masked and horned, and many others unidentified; and many years later, as I browsed through ornithology I observed what should have been obvious to me on the moment, that most of them were well beyond their usual latitudes.

Among a patch of other barn owls, sat the one that I had tracked, hooting unpleasantly, as if it was introducing me half-heartedly and only because I had rudely insisted to be invited into a company to which I did not belong. This show was already difficult for the most unwavering heart to watch, for nightbirds are mostly hunters, and even though we play no part in their game of choice, their very presence is often enough to make us feel threatened; though I do not scare easily, and I stood proudly in the center of the clearing. But then, all the birds entered a long quarrel, a terrible argument that would prove too much for my ears. Furiously, some flew over the clearing to peak and beak at some opponent or contradictor. Some that I hadn’t even seen, cleverly camouflaged, appeared suddenly and in a fit of rage would scrape their talons into the bark. And the hoot and the shriek of one single owl was multiplied by their number and their desire to be heard over the rest, till there was nothing but a pure eruption of sound that would melt my hearing for the days to come.

It is the strangest, and most likely one of the most observed things about the body, that the smallest part of the whole can scream so loudly as to take whole control over the entire machinery; and there is no pain like that endured by the smallest of its appendages. Two small holes on the side of one’s head, confronted to the loudest volume, can break mind and muscles alike, make one lose all sanity or render in a sudden fit the content of one’s stomach. The awful, lawful hoot that screeched and clawed as if to break the skin of my eardrums saw me twist and convulse on the ground. After a while, this bizarre reaction caught the attention of the animals around, and they became suddenly quiet, back to their analyzing glances.

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