As I approached the Asbestos Barn today, I startled a barn owl that was, ironically, in the trees just before the said barn and not actually in it. It took off in rather leisurely swoops, through the ruins of the building, and then away from the road a little; it didn’t go very far before it swerved back onto a trajectory almost parallel with my own and a metre or two off the ground.
For a good twenty seconds or so the barn owl and my bicycle flew along in tandem; one silent, one whirring; one skirting over green crops with its dangling feet, one purring its way over tarmac. For one of us, at least, it was like taking part in the Earthflight documentaries: I could memorize every contour of its feathery body; study its loping, minimum-effort flapping; express surprise at just how flat was its remarkably flat face, a compromise between basic aerodynamics and improved hearing.
Unfortunately, if I do fly, I don’t fly like the crow or the owl, so it was never going to last forever. With a sinking feeling of inevitability, I reached a dogleg in the road; but my sudden turn also made the bird turn, so that for a few more seconds we still described a weird formation. Then he rattled up into the branches of a tree to let me – predator, prey or pal? – belt on past.
A mile and a half later I saw another heron. It was different, but it wasn’t an owl.