In English baby animals often have weird and wonderful names. And don’t get me started on groups of animals … Packs of dogs and wolves, prides of lions, gaggles of geese and best of all – in my opinion – a parliament of owls. That speaks to me of sharpening wit with wit, of consensus and agreement rather than compromise, it reminds me that ‘minä itse’ (do it by myself) is not always the best possibility. But I digress …
Offspring don’t always look like their parents. Disney’s technique for years was to take the very positive differences and accentuate and exaggerate them to make more of an impact. The huge baby eyes on an adolescent face makes us respond more positively to the crisis. The media make use of this too. Human tragedies become more real when the crisis involves a story at the centre of which is a young venerable child. We will long remember the pictures of the dead boy carried from the sea in the midst of the refugee plight of 2015, far longer than we remember his name or indeed why his family were forced to risk everything – his and their lives – in the first place.
The first images of starving children I ever saw on TV came from Biafra. They were awful, they were shocking, parents in ?England and elsewhere tried to shield our eyes and hearts from what was happening. And who can blame them, we were scared and shaped by what we were exposed to. It was only decades and decades later, that I read about the lead up to and the causes of the civil war in Nigeria and I cried anew, because it had happened, because we had done so little to help, and most if all because genocides and civil wars were still part of the world in which I lived. Those Biafran babies, infants with heads too large for their shrunken bodies, with eyes that were too tired to plead for help and relief, and limbs that could no longer swat away the disease-bearing flies and mosquitoes – those images will stay with me forever and continue to shape me.
But healthy offspring are usually very appealing, and very easy to love. New born babies, scrunched up, with unfocussing eyes, are infinitely vulnerable and need to be kept safe after their difficult, energy-sapping journey of birth. They need love and protection. The eider duck chick looks nothing like its mother or father. To my mind it’s more like a seafaring zebra, with weird stripes and an even odder crown. Its looks offer it the best protection as a young chick, because surprisingly its colours and markings camouflage it to resemble its natural habitat, the sea, estuary or river and it can hide safely under the shadow of its mother’s feathers.
The owlet doesn’t resemble its parents much either, and it certainly hasn’t gone through rites of passage to become more than an honorary member of the parliament of owls. That may be its birthright, it is not given on a silver platter.It must be won.
What tools does the fledgling owlet have at its disposal? How does she learn she has them? How does she learn to use them? How do others respond to her growth? What happens when her feathers are ruffled? How do others respond when her actions – and inactions – ruffle theirs? What is her journey into the parliament of owls like?
All good questions, and as ever, wrestling with the questions may be much more important than the answers themselves.
The journey continues …