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  • Heather

Owls seem to have landed themselves a fashion moment. Perhaps it is the current enthusiasm for all things Scandinavian or an interest in the natural world but their images abound – fabric for clothes and furnishings, tableware, tea-towels and jewelry. But they have not often been as popular. Their eerie nocturnal cries have induced shivers of fear and artists have created impressions of them to depict deeds of darkness and horror over the centuries. They have also been inextricably linked with wisdom – perhaps because of their silent, fleeting shadows through a candlelit night and their reclusive nature by day. Is it this perceived wisdom that generated the group term 'A Parliament of Owls'? But how often are they seen in a group?



I have thought of owls as solitary creatures, a glimpse of their wings in the headlights or flitting from a tree, but I learned recently that their cal,l 'To whit - To whoo' is in fact a conversation. Apparently one (perhaps the female but reports contradict) calls out and their mate answers. This is thought to keep them in contact, denoting territory or good hunting areass, but those are probably only speculation. Lying in bed the other night listening to the owls I was actually eavesdropping on a conversation.


If the much reported hoot of an owl is two way communication, how often do we jump to conclusions about what we hear without realising that, instead of a concise comment we are in fact tuning in to part of a conversation with contributions from different speakers. The wisdom to glean from owls may be to listen to all the contributors to the conversation before pouncing on our prey!


Owls - the feathered ones - are also incredibly camera shy and have eluded me to date!





  • Heather

Recently I was staying in a dark place. Nothing to do with spookiness - just quietness, stars and stillness. I don't think many of us are good at appreciating silence - we fill it with activity or noise or words.

Soon after I qualified in medicine I was working in a psychiatry unit and one of the patients asked that she did not have to see me again because I talked so much. I was surprised that she voiced her request as she was almost mute and I KNOW that I talked. I was trying to fill the awful voids. Over the decades I think I have learned a little about holding silence. Often though, I use too many words. That is one of the reasons I have been trying to write short stories which I have put onto my website - challenging myself to write a story in exactly 100 words, or even shorter - a tweet-length tale. Can it really tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end? Or are they just one-liners that fall some way short of a joke?

For a while I have heard accounts about a man described as being 'a man of few words'. Recently I was introduced to him in person and I found that he was, in fact, a man of no words at all. My presence was acknowledged with the slightest twitch of an unidentified muscle in his chin and then he moved on. I was reminded of Geordie, a shepherd, who often let me accompany him into the fields when I was about 10 years old. He was also a man of few words, but somehow he taught me the names of all the grasses, how to locate nests of moorland birds and identify their eggs. I can only vaguely remember his voice, but clearly recall his toothless smile and his chortling laughter.

Statistics are often quoted about how much of communication is not about actual words but about how they are delivered. That can be misleading, however, as words carry weight. I moved to New Zealand to work as a Junior Doctor for 18 months and shortly after arrival was timetabled to work on Christmas morning which I didn't mind. What I did mind though was during the ward round, being asked by the professor, "Why haven't you done this you bugger?" He was laughing, but no-one had ever called me that before and it took me months to realise that I was probably being teased. Later that same Christmas day I had been invited by one of the nurses to join her family for a meal. I have never sat at such a silent meal-table. This family did not utter a word and to me that was alien. I did not have the sense that my presence was resented, but I did not feel at ease. Our words can be mis-interpreted as can our silence.

  • Heather

Scotland is sidling into spider season. Eight legged creatures are skulking in every corner or scuttling across floors. Perhaps, if I was an arachnologist I would be more familiar with their behaviour and not be struck by this sudden upsurge in sightings. I have never, however, been enticed into their world.


Not usually known for seizing the early hours of daylight I was recently walking through woodland soon after dawn. At a turn in the path I was mesmerised by the sunlight catching dew-sparkled spiders' webs. There must have been a thousand of them. An entire arachnid city. A dozen steps on and there were none to be seen, but surely there must have been further conurbations, unlit and unobserved. At first glance every web appeared identical, but, stopping to discern each gossamer creation revealed a unique feat of suspended engineering defined in silver.


I have long harboured a grudge against sticky webs - catching your face if you are first to pass along a path; collecting dust in unreachable corners; suspending decaying flies. But that morning moment was overwhelmingly atmospheric - beauty un-capturable by camera.


I spent the rest of that day with a tribe of writers at Scotswrite. All were aspiring to weave webs of words. Do such words form funnels to entice and entrap unwary prey? Or do the webs catch droplets that reflect light, strong but delicate strands created with patience and able to inspire - Consider the Scottish tale of Robert the Bruce.


What are your words weaving in your community today?