Mar 28, 2012
Every morning now is more bird-full than the last. The birds that overwinter as daily guests at the feeders—mourning doves, juncos, tufted titmice, nuthatches—have been lately joined by a host of others—bluebirds, eastern phoebes, tree swallows, starlings, tree sparrows, robins, goldfinches. I’ve heard nearly all of the newcomers before I’ve seen them.
In this mountain world, so often silent, emptied not just of human noise—human chatter and clatter—but of almost any sound whatsoever, each bird’s voice is notable in a way that is simply not possible in many other places. Certainly not many places equipped to support modern human life.
Each bird’s song is like a drip of paint dropped, one-by-one, onto a blank canvas that mysteriously, layer-by-layer, morphs into a work of art. Like musical notes played singly and assembled, one-upon-another in a concert hall, each bird’s voice is only in retrospect discovered to be part of a coherent score. A score which isn’t the background music of the season (for that there is the wind, breath, pulse of blood) but the season’s song of itself—a song that can only be sung by birds.
In order to grasp what I’m saying, one must imagine what it is to live in a place where background music is as subtle as the difference between the sound of wind in frozen tree limbs and in limbs within which the sap has begun to rise, between the sound of wind from the west and from the east. One must imagine what it is to live in a place where on windless days Cosmo’s lungs and my own heart are the only instruments through which any melody is made audible.
Over such a delicate tune, the lyrics of each day as given voice by the birds are not hard to hear. In nature’s musical theater, new notes in the score and changes to the book are not just difficult to miss, they are nearly impossible to ignore. And, believe me, no formal training is required to be bowled over by what one is hearing.
What’s required most, I suppose, is the habit of days. Days through which an understanding accrues that this song I’m hearing is as mysterious and compelling as the finest art humankind ever created. Which is to say that this song isn’t about life, it isn’t like life. This evanescent song is life all up-in-my-face, waving in front of my eyes and whistling in my ears. Tune out if you can, girl. G‘head, try.
I can’t. I’ve come to crave each day’s score and the mutable book that accompanies it. This addiction is far less akin to the blissed-out solace of narcotics than to the no-pain-no-gain endorphin-fueled high of extreme physical activity. The physical pain that must be endured in order to break-through to the next level of physical fitness is analogous to the psychic pain I must be willing to sit with, however uncomfortably, in order to hear the song life sings.
There is, on occasion, a breathtaking rawness to this brute exposure. Confronted with the crude fact of Time made manifest by each day’s incremental, yet undeniable evolution into the next, mortality itself is a constant companion, a not-entirely unwelcome houseguest who nonetheless manages to speak the unspoken, if not the unspeakable, at regular, discomfiting intervals. Here at Brightside, where there is so little in the way of background music—much less background noise—there’s nothing to crowd the message. Absent so very many distractions of the man-made world, my choices are two. Work hard, really hard, to pretend I don’t, can’t, won’t hear it. Or open my ears. Be bowled over by the message, regardless the cuts and bruises, visible and otherwise.
As William Shatner gleefully sorta-sings in “You’ll Have Time” on his strangely compelling album, Has Been: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re gonna die!”
Modern life, life in the so-called “real” world so very far from Brightside, might well be described as layer-upon-layer of effort not merely to forestall this inevitability, but to render it unthinkable and ultimately implausible.
Life at Brightside is life lived on the cutting edge of Occam’s razor. The birds won’t allow otherwise. And as I’ve already admitted, I’ve grown rather addicted to what they have to say, despite all the indelicate, occasionally more-than-unpleasant ramifications.
At the end of yesterday’s morning walk, I was approached by two black-capped chickadees.
These gorgeously attired, ohso spunky birds have been absent this warm winter. I’ve missed them, terribly. Wondered about them. Longed for them. Worried over their return. At long last, I’d heard one within the past week, singing his plaintive, two-note, high-low mating call, but I hadn’t seen him, nor witnessed a signature chicka-dee-dee-dee, a cheerleader’s call to attendance if ever there was one. All that changed yesterday morning, as two lovely birds moved closer and closer, through a black locust and then a hawthorn, chicka-dee-dee-deeing all the while.
“Hello!” I spoke aloud.
“You look wonderful!”
“I’m so glad to see you!”
“I’ve missed you so very much.”
We were, the three of us, but a couple feet apart at this point in the conversation. Tears flowed across my smile.
Oh, Dawn. You are so sentimental. I hear it. And I see it: The sweetly sorrowful grimace and incredulous, slightly shameful shake of head, as if I’ve just been diagnosed. No one in her right mind cries over chickadees.
Then again, I’m someone who’s always believed the right mind to be vastly overrated.