- Birdsong is now full throated, sweet, rounded, continuous and incredibly beautiful. Fragments of melodies float randomly from anywhere and everywhere, surrounding with incredible music, even in densely populated areas. This, like more subtle perfumes wafting about, is missed by everyone driving by in cars or on bikes, rushing through towns or malls, even walking with earbuds blasting some predictable human tune. A cosmic gift, unappreciated, although avian artists hardly care.
- Lilting phrases coming in and overriding one another resemble jazz soloists, each on their own interpretive tangent, somehow coalescing into a magical harmony. Of course, there is no beat. Of course, what music I hear is my own brain’s creation, feverishly weaving phantom patterns in its own artistic frenzy. True or false is irrelevant, what I experience is a perfectly enchanting wild symphony.
Unheard melodies are never sweetest
Keats was wrong.
Random birdsong fills May’s fragrant breeze
Finer than imagination could provide
From my poor mind
What reality have art and beauty
Except to me
- Porsches blast seventy on curves marked thirty, yard garbage construction trucks roar, tires whine and growl, pickups rattle, each contributing not only noise but stench. Arboreal chanteurs and chanteuses fortunately live in an umwelt that filters and erases all this just as we cannot hear background magnetics and radio waves screaming all around. Once in a while human noise ebbs, and a natural beauty rises to the skies.
- My umwelt cannot ignore these unpleasant intrusions _ in fact forces me to pay more attention to a garbage truck roaring towards me than to the blackbird in the reeds. I can only try to tune and focus as possible to hear what else may echo above our constant din. Often I am rewarded, more often than not I fail to try hard enough.
Karen, Dave and I ran into each other at Caumsett one grey afternoon, then sat on a bench watching the parade of folks out for jogs, walks, and children’s outings on bicycles with training wheels. A silent reverie, until Karen noted “It’s really a shame, isn’t it?”
“What’s that?” asked Dave.
“All those people ignoring everything, too busy to notice. Look at that one glued texting on a cellphone, that one talking on another, and _ yeah those kids with headphones dancing along. All of them in some other imaginary world, ignoring this one.”
“Problem of the times,” agreed Dave. “Too much to do, too much they think they are missing. In the old days….”
“Nah,” I broke in, “in the old days most people were just as bad. Go read Thoreau or Aristotle. Humans mostly ignore things except when it suits them. The distractions may change, but not the behavior.”
“It’s a shame, though,” continued Karen. “I think they’re missing so much.”
“What I think,” Dave looked around slowly, “is that a big part of the meaning of life is to just appreciate things. Maybe that’s one of our main purposes.”
“Oh, sure,” I responded sarcastically, “somewhere somehow somewhen something is paying attention and enjoying the sensations of its avatars.”
“Don’t laugh. Why not? Besides, I think of it more as fine crystals or hand-crafted exquisite perfume bottles on display on a mantle or in a curio cabinet …”
“Or stored in the garage, maybe knocked over and broken by a kid or pet-dog equivalent.”
“Anyway, it’s a nice fantasy for at least experiencing the moments fully and imagining maybe they are more than they seem.”
“Well, that’s true,” I admitted grudgingly. “Experiencing the moment fully does appear to be what the rest of these guys are frantically trying to avoid.”
We sat quietly, listening to birds and an occasional child’s laugh as the wind swept across the meadows. Absorbed in our own thoughts, which, come to think of it, were probably just as distracting as anything anyone else out there that day was doing.
- Best days to hear birds or any other natural sound is heavy mist, when suspended water drops act like snow to muffle distant noises. It also seems to be a spur to the birds themselves, who respond with hearty bravado and fill each copse of trees and brush with loud and continuous notes. Here at Upland Farms, the trees are cycling close to normal, but ground cover, even ragweed, is weeks behind because of extended wet cold.
- I also appreciate that at such times, humans tend to hibernate in vast enclosed emporiums or hidden nests. Dog walkers at the park thin to a hardy few, awaiting better times. So I often get vast stretches of public lands to myself. All I need is a poncho, heavier coat than I would normally use at this time of year, and the will to leave my comforts to find unexpected treasure.
- As I watched a baby yellow finch fumbling in nearby branches, I realized how much more I appreciate now, as well as how little desire I have to learn extended conventional expertise. My badge of becoming an expert once was to memorize common and Latin names, to be able to recognize tiny differences in plumage, to confidently search for a given species by recognizing its song. Same with weeds and trees, arrogantly identified.
- Now I am more skeptical that such helped my joy. Was it really more important to identify the species by subtle feathers than it was to glory in its miraculous appearance set against leaves and branches? Can’t I simply rejoice in what is, and how happy and open it makes me feel? Doesn’t conventional expertise, to some extent, diminish that naïve enthusiasm?
- Our ancestors had to intimately learn which cohabiting lifeforms were dangerous, or destructive, or tasty. To control them for safety or food, they had to understand locations and habits, when to shoot on sight, where to stretch nets, which plants to encourage and which to destroy. I do not live as my ancestors. My needs are different. My expertise probably should adjust as well.
- Now, I do not claim it is wrong to know anything. I enjoy knowing a hawk from an osprey, a finch from a robin. Yet I will no longer interrupt my natural reveries and observation with frantic searches on the internet, quick photographs for later study, or opening a field guide. Not only are those all distractions to experiencing the moment fully, I have also learned to my chagrin that age frequently clears my memory. I once learned for all time, now I am lucky to remember what I thought I memorized a week ago.
- In particular, these days as birds sing I am clueless. I can recognize crows or seagulls by sound alone and that’s about it _ those are hardly the most melodious. That once bothered me. Now I just let unexpected music echo from nowhere to nowhere, and I love it as a sweet unassociated immersion in nature.
- Been a great week for focus on listening. Wet and slow growth kept many of whining blowers and mowers in storage. Heavy air damped normal industrial soundscape background. Mating, nesting, incubation hunger kept avian activity high, no bird remaining silent for long. Lots to see, but with effort that could be subsumed as well.
- This tiny patch of woods displays skunk cabbage in a bog surrounding a tiny remnant outlet into what were once wetlands, now bounded by centuries of various dikings, embankments, and dams. Already an adventure to get to, because poison ivy is springing up everywhere on the forest floor, delicate tiny red leaves and vines not yet impenetrable, but dangerous to those with allergies nonetheless. I’ll have to be careful about touching the cuffs on my jeans for a while.