Friday, June 09, 2017

A Satisfying Ululation

I was meeting Ace Atkins, Bill Boyle, and Tom Franklin at the City Grocery Bar at 4:02 PM, or as it is known around here, "Megan Abbott Time." But I was early so I stopped in Square Books and killed some time by taking the Flann O'Brien novel AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS off the shelf and idly leafing through it in a comfortable chair like a common thief of ideas. Now, you must remember that I read AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS back in that hazy time before I noticed that every book I read has an owl in it and must therefore be catalogued for the people of the future. So! Someone asks the legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool about what might be the sweetest music he has ever heard, and he rattles off a list of dozens of answers, many of which made me laugh, like "the whining of small otters in nettle-beds at evening... A satisfying ululation is the contending of a river with the sea." And somewhere in there was "the low warble of water-owls in Loch Barra." And I sat there for some time muttering it aloud so I wouldn't forget: "the low warble of water-owls, the low warble of water-owls." I don't know why I didn't ask for a pen and a scrap of paper. But when I got home I wanted to recall some of the other phrases too, so I got out my yellowed, falling-apart paperback of AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS and it was then that I also noticed, for the first time, Finn's tribute to "the long-eared bush-owl," which had somehow escaped me in the afternoon. At the end of his long list of pleasant sounds, Finn's friend says, "Relate further for us," and Finn replies, "It is true that I will not." Ha ha! (Pictured, the fanciful Ziphius, or water-owl, with a friend.)