Every spring I hear the thrush singing in the glowing woods he is only passing through. His voice is deep, then he lifts it until it seems to fall from the sky. I am thrilled. I am grateful. Then, by the end of morning, he’s gone, nothing but silence out of the tree where he rested for a night. And this I find acceptable. Not enough is a poor life. But too much is, well, too much. Imagine Verdi or Mahler every day, all day. It would exhaust anyone. ~Mary Oliver from “A Thousand Mornings”
What does it say about me that in the darkness of December mornings, I yearn for the early sunrises of June but once I’m firmly into the June calendar, it no longer is so compelling? It confirms my suspicion that I’m incapable of reveling in the moment at hand, something that would likely take years of therapy to undo. I’m sure there is some deep seated issue here, but I’m too sleep deprived to pursue it.
My eyes popped open this morning at 4:17 AM, spurred by vigorous birdsong in the trees surrounding our farm house. There was daylight sneaking through the venetian blinds at that unseemly hour as well. Once the bird chorus starts, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly becomes a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from the plum, cherry, poplar, walnut, fir and chestnut. Sleep is irretrievable.
I remember wishing for early morning birdsong last December when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift. I had conveniently forgotten those mornings a few years ago when we had a flock of over a dozen young roosters who magically found their crows very early in the morning a mere 10 weeks after hatching. Nothing before or since could match their alarm clock expertise after 4 AM. No barbecue before or since has tasted as sweet.
So I remind myself how bad it can really be and backyard birdsong is a veritable symphony in comparison.
Silence and darkness grow apace,
broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods.
Songbirds abandon us so gradually that,
until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay,
we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death.
Even the sun has gone off somewhere…
Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed,
and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head. ~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”
Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer. The usual day-long symphony of birdsong of the rest of the year is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.
In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth. The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
Last weekend I was startled by the cacophony of a starling murmuration or “rumble”, hundreds rising and falling together in mass over the farm, landing brashly in our treetops and bleaching the ground beneath with their droppings, shattering the silence for an hour before moving on to another piece of real estate. Our farm was quiet once again.
The chilly silence of the darkened days is now interrupted by gunfire percussion, no melody at all. There are no morning birdsong arias, leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that in a few short months will wake me at 4 AM. There is no peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, their symphonies rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet and I’m left bereft, hungry for a song, any song. I listen intently for the familiar early morning and evening serenades returning.
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;—
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.
But here the Autumn melancholy dwells, And sighs her tearful spells Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain. Alone, alone, Upon a mossy stone, She sits and reckons up the dead and gone With the last leaves for a love-rosary, Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily, Like a dim picture of the drownèd past In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away, Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last Into that distance, gray upon the gray. ~Thomas Hood from “Autumn”
These cooling mornings are so silent~
no bird song
the dogs still asleep
no cows bellowing
only the sound of a horse
leaning heavy on a barn wall.
The gray on gray of this morning
interrupted by the painting of sky and leaf,
silence to the ear
is a symphony for the eye.