A leading nature writer has revealed it was the “resilience and beauty” of Short-eared Owls she suddenly glimpsed on the Scottish island of Mull which gave her hope for the future when her teenage son was diagnosed with a serious illness.
Miriam Darlington was visiting remote locations in the UK and northern Europe in a quest to track down the 13 different species of European owls for her latest book, Owl Sense, when she received news that her 19-year-old son Benji had collapsed.
“He collapsed on a bus and other passengers just stepped over him and ignored him. It was the bus driver who dealt with him at the bus depot. The medics didn’t know what was wrong which made it unbearable.”
Eventually Benji was diagnosed with non-epileptic attack disorder, which involves seizures, and had to give up his college carpentry course.
Darlington, who will be talking about her book on 6 August at Fringe by the Sea in North Berwick, was at the early stages of researching her book which involved a lot of overseas travel, including the Taiga Forest in northern Finland, when the crisis occurred.
After discussion with her son and family, she decided to continue with the project, sharing her time between travel and home.
“I was on Mull when after a very long wait, out of the blue a ‘Shortie’ appeared from nowhere, stopped in front to me and turned its gaze on me. Then I saw more of them. It was electrifying.
“Their resilience and beauty just seemed to get right through to me at that moment, and sustained me.
“It’s very uplifting to encounter such creatures in the wild. They gave me a sense of purpose, away from the drama and worry. It was calming and reassuring to be experiencing something so elemental at a time when the real world was so terrifying.
“Benji is now doing well but sometimes still has seizures. He’s become quite interested in the owls and even asked if we could get one of our own.”
Darlington, whose previous book Otter Country also took her to Scotland, added: “‘Shorties’ migrate from Scandinavia and are one of the most beautiful species of owls. They have the most entrancing, stunning bright yellow eyes . They hunt at dawn and dusk. Often owls feature in stories and legends but we don’t know that much about them.”
She said her fascination with the night creatures began after she read about them in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
When Macbeth goes to murder King Duncan, Lady Macbeth is certain she can hear the shrieking of a “death messenger” in the form of an owl.
“Hark! Peace!” she says. “It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman.”
Fringe by the Sea, Friday until 12 August, features more than 160 events including comedy, music, literature, talks and children’s events. www.fringebythesea.com