1 October 2013

Human Companionship, No Longer Pleasant

William Henry Hudson, Birds and Man (London: Duckworth & Co., 1915), pp. 184-186:
At Willersey, a Mr Andrews, a lover of birds who owns a large garden and orchard in the village, gave me an entertaining account of a pet wood owl he once had. He had it as a young bird and never confined it. As a rule it spent most of the daylight hours in an apple loft, coming forth when the sun was low to fly about the grounds until it found him, when it would perch on his shoulder and spend the evening in his company. In one thing this owl differed from most pet birds which are allowed to have their liberty: he made no difference between the people of the house and those who were not of it; he would fly on to anybody's shoulder, although he only addressed his hunger-cry to those who were accustomed to feed him. As he roamed at will all over the place he became well known to every one, and on account of his beauty and perfect confidence he grew to be something of a village pet. But short days with long, dark evenings — and how dark they can be in a small, tree-shaded, lampless village! — wrought a change in the public feeling about the owl. He was always abroad in the evening, gliding about unseen in the darkness on downy silent wings, and very suddenly dropping on to the shoulder of any person — man, woman, or child — who happened to be out of doors. Men would utter savage maledictions when they felt the demon claws suddenly clutch them; girls shrieked and fled to the nearest cottage, into which they would rush, palpitating with terror. Then there would be a laugh, for it was only the tame owl; but the same terror would be experienced on the next occasion, and young women and children were afraid to venture out after nightfall lest the ghostly creature with luminous eyes should pop down upon them.
At length, one morning the bird came not back from his night-wandering, and after two days and nights, during which he had not been seen, he was given up for lost. On the third day Mr Andrews was in his orchard, when, happening to pass near a clump of bushes, he heard the owl's note of recognition very faintly uttered. The poor bird had been in hiding at that spot the whole time, and when taken up was found to be in a very weak condition and to have one leg broken. No doubt one of the villagers on whose shoulders it had sought to alight, had struck it down with his stick and caused its injury. The bone was skilfully repaired and the bird tenderly cared for, and before long he was well again and strong as ever; but a change had come over his disposition. His confidence in his human fellow-creatures was gone; he now regarded them all — even those of the house — with suspicion, opening wide his eyes and drawing a little back when any person approached him. Never more did he alight on any person's shoulder,  though his evenings were spent as before in flying about the village. Insensibly his range widened and he became wilder. Human companionship, no longer pleasant, ceased to be necessary; and at length he found a mate who was willing to overlook his pauper past, and with her he went away to live his wild life.
Caspar David Friedrich,
Eule in gotischem Fenster (1836)