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A Shout From The Attic: A Bird In The Hand

...One night, I decided that I would run the eleven miles into Larnaca and then run back: a total distance of twenty-two miles.

As I set out, dusk lay heavy on the day, its pearly light bathing the landscape, reducing to almost nothing the normal indicators of once familiar locations...

Ronnie Bray tells of going on a long-distance run while serving in Cyprus withe the Army - a run which resulted in an encounter he has never forgotten.

It has always been a source of regret that I was not born and raised in the country, taught the names of trees and wild flowers, and brought up on familiar terms with all the funny little animals and birds that live there. I can identify a sparrow, magpie, and squirrel, but after that, wild creatures are fused into generic animal-like things that could or could not be voles, stoats, weasels, or any number of similarly vague animals. I envy those who are at home, not only with knowledge about the furry denizens of field side and hedge and who also embrace them easily and confidently in their hands, know what they eat, and understand the cycle of their lives.

Because I am undeniably a townie with the yearning for country ways, I have often found myself gingerly touching a horse whose head has been thrust over a dry-stone wall expecting to be fed, but keeping my fingers well away from the chisel-edged tombstones that pass for those things you do not count if someone gives you a horse for your birthday, and envying those who know that horses will not bite you if you hold your hand the right way. Other than that, my experience with All Creatures Great and Small has been confined to blitzkrieg with wasps, dalliance with a white mouse, and a homing pigeon, a brief flirtation with Loggerhead moths, and a few moments with a microchiroptera that I’ll tell you all about – another time!

The homing pigeon is not the bird-in-the-hand of the title. That honour belongs to a different bird altogether, about which I had almost forgotten. Why I would forget it considering the unusual nature of the situation and the joy it brought to me, I can not explain. It was one of the most stunning exhibitions of the principle of delicious serendipity that I have ever known, and I have been blessed to know a few.

Whilst serving in the British Army on the beautiful island of Cyprus, tucked into the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and it being, for the first four months of my stay there, still a place of outstanding peace and serenity, I took to long distance running to keep myself fit and explore the island at the same time. Most of my running was done in the early evening in the warm after-heat of the day, when my time was my own and I could forget the rigours of military life.

I used a regular circuit from the barracks at Dhekelia’s REME Workshops, that took me about three miles west towards Larnaca before it swung south towards the sea, then climbed around a long steep hill that ran north-east then north, and back into the camp, approaching it from the opposite direction than I had left it. One night, I decided that I would run the eleven miles into Larnaca and then run back: a total distance of twenty-two miles.

As I set out, dusk lay heavy on the day, its pearly light bathing the landscape, reducing to almost nothing the normal indicators of once familiar locations. It was not like being lost, but there was an otherworldly eeriness to the twilight that made it impossible to say where I was with any reasonable precision. In nightfall’s murky illumination, the mind is easily distracted and confused. The dark outlines of shrubs and bushes at the narrow road’s edge assumed grotesque proportions that my mind elaborated into an interesting and creepy assortment of unstructured monsters that just could be the shadow of something more substantial and threatening.

Convinced, but not too firmly, in the power of my own imagination I continued to run down the slim ribbon of road that followed the coast for most of its length to the town, forcibly trying to disbelieve the evidence of my eyes. It was in this frame of mind that I ran past a bundle of screwed up newspaper lying in the road. Something nagged at me and in retrospect I saw the crumpled newspaper as something living, but …

I stopped running and retraced my steps to where the scrunched up tabloid lay motionless on the asphalt. Peering through darkness at it with bent knees to get me nearer to the object of my scrutiny, I discovered that the thing was an owl. It lay completely still and did not stir even when I gently but warily picked it up and nestled it in my cupped hands. As far as I could tell in the shadowy gloom, it was tawny in colour and it measure just less than a foot long from head to tail. It was warm and I felt its heart beating and concluded that it had somehow and uncharacteristically managed to knock itself out, possibly by flying into one of the telegraph wires that ran from pole to pole along the side of the road.

I stroked its feathers, petting it softly, until after a few moments its eyes opened wide and blinked at me. Apart from taking in the situation, it did nothing. Since it did not object to my stroking, I continued until its eyes lost their confused look. Then, I placed it legs down on the road where it lay as if sitting on eggs with its legs folded beneath it. I lifted it by the tail and its body rose up leaving its taloned feet on the ground, its legs extending. It stood in stillness like a statue until I put my hand under its rear and pushed lightly, whereon it opened its wings and flew off into the night with never a hoot goodbye and no word of thanks.

Sometime, somewhere, we come across those whose journey through life has been halted, temporarily, by an unexpected blow. All that is needed is for someone to discover them and take enough time from whatever they are doing to set them back on their feet and help them fly again. As the Good Book says:

They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.

I know it works because I have witnessed the miracle!


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