April 11 – A Fragile Predator

Common barn owl (Tyto alba) thanks to Christian for this great photo.

Common barn owl (Tyto alba) thanks to Christian for this great photo.

In recent weeks I’ve been privileged to be involved in a small professional way with the planning for the ‘Golden Jubilee’ of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral on 25th May 2012. It’s meant that I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Coventry both in the ruins of the Old Cathedral and in marvelling at the story of reconciliation that the New Cathedral embodies in such a powerful way.

One evening I was returning from Coventry after a lengthy meeting and just outside Warwick I suddenly noticed what at first looked like a very low flying seagull. I quickly turned my head to see that it was actually a barn owl and in the instant that I saw it, it dropped like a bomb on folded wings into the rank wayside grasses in search of a small rodent. In a matter of seconds the bird was back in the air empty handed and it began to hover and wheel over the spot where it had unsuccessfully plunged in search of prey.

I wanted to stay and watch this gloriously silent hunter but we were travelling at a fair old lick and were soon ‘round the bend’ (as it were) and unsighted. In my mind’s eye I could picture the creature’s amazingly buoyant flight allied to the gold filigree like patterning on the upper part of its body. I couldn’t help thinking too, of how vulnerable this low flying predator was to the fast moving traffic. If it eased above the road when a lorry or coach came charging through – the hunter would very quickly become the hunted (not to say the flattened).

That’s what I find so amazing about Coventry Cathedral’s story. At one and the same time it is both beautiful and ravaged. What took centuries to build was all but laid waste on one November night in 1940 and the message of reconciliation which Coventry bears (according to its website like “god’s thumb print upon us”) is so fragile, so easily misunderstood and so quickly flattened by a world travelling so fast on its own business that it just doesn’t get it. And yet it’s so very powerful and still going strong nearly 50 years on.

James

PS I saw my first swallow on April 2nd – my earliest sighting for years. Do let me know when and where you saw your first swallow this year – I can be reached at James.Holden@leader.co.uk..

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