Recently I decided to learn a language during this solitary time, and since May exudes an abundance of birdsong, the language of birds seemed like a good choice; besides, birdsong has always allured me with its unique beauty. Beyond having more alone time, three other experiences prompted this idea.
A few weeks ago when I was walking in the nearby Audubon Center at Riverlands, hundreds of red-winged blackbirds were perched in trees sharing their songs exuberantly. After hiking and listening for an hour, I knew their song by heart. As I watched them, I recalled seeing Audubon’s 2019 Grand Prize-winning photo of a Red-winged Blackbird by Kathrin Swoboda. What she captured in her unique photo were the “smoke rings” that form from its breath as the bird sings out! I learned that she needed the dark forest background and a rising sun to backlight the vapor to catch this rare sight, music in a picture. What a lovely image of language! I regret not being able to include the photo here, but it is worth searching out on Audubon's web site.
The next experience was listening to the CD “Birding by Ear” by Richard K. Walton and Robert W. Lawson. This audio guide to birdsong identification is a wealth of information. For example, I love mockingbirds and the way they go to the highest point on a tree or house and sing out endlessly, or so it seems. One section of the CD is about “mimics” where I found out that in addition to mockingbirds, other mimics include the brown thrasher and the catbird. In great detail the authors explain how counting song repetitions enables you to determine which of the three is the singer. How wonderful is that? Learning to ID birdsongs has been a gift during these contemplative hermit days.
Another motivation for learning the language of birds came to me recently from Paul Winter, a Grammy Award winning saxophonist and composer known for creating the “earth music” genre. In a recent newsletter he tells a delightful story of hearing a new bird song. His research revealed that it was a Wood Thrush singing in the key of C major, repeating notes three times. It dawned on him that these were the chords of the first four bars of the opening Prelude of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” which happens to be in the key of C major! Consequently, Paul wrote an original piece based on this song, naming it “The Well-Tempered Wood Thrush”. Recordings of the lovely song are included throughout. I encourage you to give yourself a real treat and listen by searching for “The Well-Tempered Wood Thrush” on You Tube.
A photographer, bird enthusiasts, and a musician have opened the door for me to appreciate the music of Earth in unique ways. Each one revealed the ability to be in communion with our rare and precious planet out of their special talents. Each of them shows a way to live contemplatively, and they call me to deepen my communion. Since true contemplation leads to action I have to wonder if this deeper relationship with the world will make my survival and birds’ survival more probable. What do you think? What special sounds have you heard during your solitary time that will help heal our rare and precious planet?