Journal du pays: tawny owls are on the prowl | Spring

IIt was well past midnight when the tawny owl began to screech. Without wind, the sound seemed unreasonably loud and within reach; he was probably perched in the tall beech tree in the corner of the garden. A few minutes passed before the first calls were returned by another, more distant owl.

Hyacinths carpet the forest floor. Photography: John Gilbey

I walked out, trying to locate the second participant, but could only get a vague sense of direction and distance – placing this owl somewhere on the other side of the hill. With the moon below the horizon and a continuous blanket of clouds, it was pitch dark – except for a lone light in the hamlet across the valley. After a few minutes, I could make out the silhouette of the trees and the distant profile of the hills which stood out against the clouds.

The morning brought calm, overcast skies that drained and flattened the colors of the landscape. The deeply shaded path under the beech forest is deserted and almost silent. A short stretch of the road is home to mature trees on both sides, the upper branches crossing like the vault of a Gothic cathedral. Beneath this canopy of branches, the bright green – almost fluorescent – ​​of the spring leaves stands out against the gray blur of the sky. The vibrant color fades quickly and the interval between brilliant emergence and full, dark maturity is only a few days, but it is a marker in the evolution of the season.

The steep slope of the wood is covered with a mass of bluebells. These blooms are short-lived, pinching and wilting when they start to peak, but for now they’re a welcome block of solid color after the dark shades of winter. A sound of a fight in the hedge makes me look down – to find a young rabbit, barely bigger than my hand, caught between the competing choices of curiosity and flight. Breaking my stride breaks the spell, and it goes into the undergrowth. He will have to improve his reactions if he hopes to reach adulthood in a landscape strewn with pitfalls.

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