the owl and the puppy dog

October 27, 2006

Another animal story and, unlike the most of the stuff I write, perfectly true. Three years ago this month our dog, who we were very attached to, died. That night was pretty traumatic but the strangest part of it was provided by an owl. There are several Asian Barred owlets living around the house. They make a trill just before daybreak and a maniacal shriek at any time during the day. Around three am, shortly after Carrefour had died, one came and sat close to the bedroom window and made a whole series of chilling sounds the like of which I have never heard. It had all the tonal quality of the Asian Barred Owlet so I’m sure that’s what it was but, instead of shrieking just for a few seconds it delivered a chain of melodies, each one starting low and rising to a shrill crescendo. Afterwards, I discovered that Thais, like many other people, believe the owl symbolises death and the northern Thais are convinced that owls come to the house of a dying person and call them away to the other world. Of course I don’t believe such mumbo-jumbo but I can’t get the sound of that call out my head. I’ve checked with ornithologists here and there’s no owl they are aware of that makes that sort of call.
There’s an excellent article on owls in mythologies in the Owl pages.
Throughout human history, owls have variously symbolized dread, knowledge, wisdom, death, and religious beliefs in a spirit world. In Africa, for example, owls are still genuinely believed to be evil. From the ancient Greek legends to the wise owls in Wini the Pooh and The Owl and The Pussycat, owls have also appeared as the bearers of knowledge and sagacity. Pliny the Elder wrote that owls foretell only evil and are to be dreaded more than all other birds in Slavonic cultures, owls were believed to announce deaths and disasters. In many cultures, owls signal an underworld or serve to represent human spirits after death; in other cultures, owls represent supportive spirit helpers and allow humans (often shamans) to connect with or utilize their supernatural powers. In many Nepali and Hindu legends owls are thought to have captured the spirit of a person departed from this world. Members of the animistic Garo Hills Tribe of Meghalaya, northeast India, refer to owls as doang, which means birds that are believed to call out at night when a person is going to die. Shakespeare recognized the role that owls have as the “fatal bellmen” (Macbeth, 1605-1606, Act II, Scene ii, Line 4) of that final deepest sleep. And while we’re on the subject of primitive myths the Bible has quite a few sinister references to owls, as in Job: “I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls…. My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing.” Most of the stuff about spirits that people take seriously here i just laugh off but this one troubles me still.

asian-barred-owlet.jpg   Asian Barred Owlet


assorted geekery

September 27, 2006

Off to the (blog-free) Burmese border today for a couple of days or so to see if our junta needs a hand against theirs. That done, hope to photograph moths, record birds and mouth harps, and practice my Lahu with toothless grandmothers, who are the only people with the patience to hold a conversation with me. I should be grateful if world leaders thinking of invading another country, potential rioters, would-be assassins and embryonic terrorists would just hold fire while I’m away.
In the meantime I have recently discovered Bloglines (about 6 months after everybody else) and I think it’s amazing to able to see what’s going on in all your favourite blogs at one go.
Finally, a note of thanks to all those who have found this blog via a search engine, in particular those who searched for ‘snails farting’, ‘my dog wets his bed at night’. ‘iambic pentameter about cucumbers’. ‘massage sex hornsey road london thai’. ‘how to steal watches’ and ‘televisions for sale at tesco’s’. I hope you weren’t too disappointed. No apologies at all to those who entered the most popular search term in recent weeks (‘sex with porcupines’). Is that what blogging does to you?