The selfie photograph is in the bathroom of the house I moved to two years ago. On the wall behind is Paekakariki mate Michael O’Leary’s painting of us as two donkers or barn owls, in the foreground my Aussie cousin Patricia’s painting of Summer Owl.
Billy Bunter the Fat Owl of the Remove was a favourite childhood character. These days I am an Owl Man of the Move. I relocated to Paekakariki in 2003, celebrating the shift by asking my long-time Wellington colleague the late Grant Tilly to paint my new island environment with owl prominent. The morepork is bottom left on his epic Kapiti painting, a 3-D owl in fretwork. It shares the hall with the Bosch Temptation of St Anthony, with its owl observing. Both survived inside the downsizing to a smaller home, but many of the owl collection have had to take up residence in the tin shed, the carport or somewhere outside.
The twilight shed is not inappropriate for owls, particularly the battery-driven owl Jacob gave me. It dangles in front of the window, when activated its wings flap and its eyes glow like a forest creature out of Midsomer Murders. The tin walls are well stocked with Alice Fraser’s David Parry painting of a barn owl protecting her eggs, Julian’s gift copy of the 1508 Durer owl painting, Nicky’s delicate paper fabric owl, cousin Dinah Priestley’s Silver Owl flag. The winds of Houghton Bay shredded the edges of the flag, Dinah repaired them with leather, alas the winds and salt air took a toll. Now it is safe in a frame.
Galya’s stuffed owl seemed happy for a year in the shed, but the rats or birds started taking tufts out of it and it has moved to a high and safe position in the carport, opposite the clay and metal owls, above the conservatory table abode of a verdigris-streaked copper owl, an old wooden owl and a candle owl that one unwise lighting reduced to a one-eyed hunchback.
Inside the house new owls jostle for position on crowded owl surfaces. The two soft toy moreporks on the dresser perform their owl chorus with simultaneous stomach squeezes, a wooden ding on the brass owl gong opposite an appropriate counterpoint. The plaster owl bookend sits against the bookcase wall glowering for want of a mate at the owl inkwell on top of the desk opposite. The metallic owl with head canted has had to move to the sill. In the bedroom the lampshades are a pair of Burton’s Silver Owl logo wonderfully transferred by the digital printing magic of one of the superb local artisans. They face the cream owl jug with artificial flowers happier atop the dresser than ever it was out in the living room of the former abode.
The big blue ceramic owl is content playing sentry at the front door, welcoming any new owls, but the same cannot be said for the propeller owl stuck in the spider plant pot. No matter how often I turn it towards visitors, it always reverts to stare at the front door. Owls are not predictable, but then that’s part of their appeal, along with the penetrating stare of the big, round eyes we interpret as wise.