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Posts Tagged ‘birdsong’

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“What is it? What is it? What is it?” The little girl’s song almost overshadowed that of the bird’s. Her mother, a bit exasperated perhaps, snapped, “It’s a bird!” The little girl’s tune changed. “Where is it? Where is it? Where is it?” As the mother took a deep breath, I stepped forward and knelt down. “Do you want to see it?” She nodded and so I showed her the bird on my camera. I zoomed in too, and she said, “Ooooh! It’s furry!” “Nope, just little feathers,” I corrected. She squinted at me. “But where is it in the tree?!” I stood up and said, “Follow my finger.” And she did, and she was just barely able to make out the bird in the branches that had continued to sing heartily the whole time we were staring down at the camera.

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Several years ago I attended a national conference sponsored by a major environmental organization.  The conference was held in a lovely out of the way place in a southern state.  I and a colleague had petitioned our company to pay for our attendance as part of our professional development.  When we arrived and began to mingle amongst the other 498 guests, I noticed something immediately but I didn’t say anything to my colleague.  However my colleague quickly pointed out the unspoken:  that I was one of just three brown people at the multi-day event.  As I attended the various sessions, I listened as people discussed how to save rainforests and wildlands, and contemplated strategies to bus minority children out of cities to visit green spaces.  I understood the intent behind the words, but I was troubled.  As the days progressed, I felt something building inside me until …

… near the end of the conference, I sat in a small group session.  I don’t remember the session’s focus.  But I remember the look on a well-meaning person’s face as she all but called me “you poor thing” when I admitted out loud that I had never seen the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.  As someone else went on to raise how do we (as in environmentalists) get more African Americans interested in the environment, I snapped.  Let me tell you, I was much more shy then than I am now.  So it was a big deal for me to open my mouth in that group and give them a piece of my mind about labeling and having narrow views about who was interested in the environment.   Afterwards I raced to the restroom.  I was shaky.  I was new to the environmental field.  Many of the people in that room had been working in the field longer than I had been alive.  What did I know?

As I slowly washed my hands, into the restroom walked Terry Tempest Williams, one of the conference presenters and a well-known writer and activist.  I loved her work but at that moment I just wanted to dash right pass her. However, she held me with her eyes.   “Well said in there.”  That’s it.  That’s all she said, but it was all I needed to hear.  That moment, that encouragement has stayed with me over the years and came to mind this morning as I read one of her recent essays, “A Disturbance of Birds.”  It is a beautifully written piece about her discovery of a brain tumor.  Woven throughout her story are the stories of other people.  Dotting this narrative quilt are birds in all forms.

I highly recommend a read of this essay.  Her words greatly moved me.  At first I found myself thinking of loved ones recently lost and then of loved ones who are currently not in good health.  I thought of loved ones traveling who I wish were home.  And then I thought of birds.  The ones I watched with my mom.  The robin described by my uncle.  The blue herons I see with Steve.   The birdsong I cannot photograph but which inspires me so.   And then finally I was filled with gratitude.  I am grateful for the people I have met throughout my life and hopeful for the ones I have yet to meet.  As the sun shines bright today, I know that I have been lucky. 😉

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This morning I lay in bed a long time listening to birdsong.  It drifted in through multiple windows, from the trees and bushes surrounding the house, rich layers of sound that were deeply relaxing.  At least, relaxing for me.  I know the birds were hard at work “speaking” to each other.  With spring finally sprung, I’ve seen many birds this past week, including cardinals, blue jays, robins, blackbirds, sparrows as well as the ever present pigeons.   The intensely bright hues of the cardinals and blue jays startled me until I realized they were males trying to catch some attention.  I don’t know which ones sing which songs but together they create quite the symphony.  Care to hear or see for yourself?  Below are a few links you might enjoy.

Why Birds Sing

World’s Largest Archive of Animal Sounds

Songbird Photos on National Geographic

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There is no more selfish act, no more powerful gift I give to myself, then when I find a quiet corner to read a book of poetry.  Through the author’s words — and the images evoked by those words — my experiences of this life are deepened.  I especially felt that way today as I found a moment to read W. S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius.  You see, for days now, each morning as night gives way to morning, I have lain awake in bed listening to birdsong.  I have struggled with how to capture the experience on paper.  And then I read Merwin’s poem The Laughing Thrush, and I thought, “Well, one day the words may come about my bird and his song.  But for now let me enjoy another’s.”

 

The Laughing Thrush

by W. S. Merwin

 

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night

and the hush of the dark valley

and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded

yes this is the place and the one time

in the whole of before and after

with all of memory waking into it

and the lost visages that hover

around the edge of sleep

constant and clear

and the words that lately have fallen silent

to surface along the phrases of some future

if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight

whether or not there is anyone listening

 

* from The Shadow of Sirius

 

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