“The slow recognition of an enemy came visibly”

September 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

“Half an hour before sunset I came to a pine wood. It was already dark under the trees, but there was light in the ride as I walked along it from the west. Outside it was cold, but the wood was still warm. The boles of the pines glowed redly under the blue-black gloom of their branches. The wood had kept its dusk all day, and seemed now to be breathing it out again. I went quietly down the ride, listening to the last rich dungeon notes of a crow. In the middle of the wood, I stopped. A chill spread over my face and neck. Three yards away, on a pine branch close to the ride, there was a tawny owl. I held my breath. The owl did not move. I heard every small sound of the wood as loudly as though I too were an owl. It looked at the light reflected in my eyes. It waited. Its breast was white, thickly arrowed and speckled with tawny red. The redness passed over the sides of its face and head to form a rufous crown. The helmeted face was pale white, ascetic, half-human, bitter and withdrawn. The eyes were dark, intense, baleful. This helmet effect was grotesque, as though some lost and shrunken knight had withered to an owl. As I looked at those grape-blue eyes, fringed with their fiery gold, the bleak face seemed to crumble back into the dusk; only the eyes lived on. The slow recognition of an enemy came visibly to the owl, passing from the eyes, and spreading over the stony face like a shadow. But it had been startled out of its fear, and even now it did not fly at once. Neither of us could bear to look away. Its face was like a mask; macabre, ravaged, sorrowing, like the face of a drowned man. I  moved. I could not help it. And the owl suddenly turned its head, shuffled along the branch as though cringing, and flew away into the wood.”

— J. A. Baker, The Peregrine

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