Saturday, September 4, 2010

Starlings at sunset

A couple of weeks ago, my school had its annual New Student Orientation, which I was required to attend. The school is situated in a rural area, beside a cow pasture within a ring of tall pines. Near the parking lots, behind the business building, a tall communication tower with six or so guide lines dives into the ground creating a skeletal circus tent formation.

When the event ended, I walked through the sterile public school corridors and out into the parking lot where I was immediately overwhelmed by the song of thousands of starlings perched high in the pines and along the guide lines of the tower. I cannot do justice to the nearly deafening chorus of the birds. I was thrilled. I felt for a moment as if I'd been transported from rural North Carolina to a rain forest in Brazil.

It called to mind all of the other times when I became suddenly aware of birdsong. I can remember distinctly walking to Lucky's in New Orleans one morning, passing under crepe myrtles and oaks along St. Charles and realizing with a start that birds were singing just by my ear. I remember stopping and wondering if they had been singing all along, continuously for days, and if so, had I merely blocked the songs out? The idea became an obsession for the day and has recurred often since. I'll walk out in the morning, hear the birds, and wonder if I have been ignoring them. It still bothers me. As if taking the songs for granted makes a statement about my general appreciation of the beautiful things in the world. I feel this profound sense of guilt, as if I've found a gift that some long dead relative gave me as a child that has become lost in a dusty corner of a closet due to my own carelessness.

On this particular night, I can honestly say that I have never before heard so many birds singing in unison. It was beautiful and breathtaking and eerie. I leapt in my car and drove to my parents house to snatch Fain away and bring him back to the performance.

I told him, "You won't believe this! Wait until you hear!" We were both giddy with excitement.

He was surprised when I pulled the car into the school's driveway and then into the parking lot, and I was so afraid the starlings had flown away in the interim, but when I told Fain to roll down his window while I parked, I could hear the multitude of birds all twittering together.

I jumped from the car and ran around the side to help Fain out, and then just said, "Listen!" I pointed up to the hundreds of birds perched along the guide lines and to the fluttering tops of the pines, where their wings and tail feathers, silhouetted in the black pine tops, looked like moving branches and brooms of needles.

His face registered the delight and wonder that I'd hoped for, and then we began to pay closer attention to the little birds on the guide lines, who seemed to have begun to perform in Vaudeville fashion for our small audience. One starling would attempt to nudge his way into the line of gossiping birds, and in doing so, she would create a domino effect, causing one bird to slip and slide and budge the next, which would in turn cause another ruffled biddie to slip and slide and so on down the line. Fain, who was wearing only his boxers and a t-shirt, laughed so hard that he had to hold his belly.

And then, suddenly, the noise would cease, just that quickly, and all in unison, there would be complete and utter silence, and all of the starlings would burst into flight in a mass of black against the blue sky, and that was the strangest part because when they flew, all at once, their wings would generate a vibration that was palpable and a sound like a heart palpitation, and it would make my own heart palpitate, not metaphorically, but actually. It was almost as if they had lifted me up and dropped me, and my heart skipped a beat for fear and excitement.

Fain said that it was the best night of his life. Of course, he's at that age where every day is either the best or the worst, but I was so proud of him for being moved by something that didn't come from Walmart. And I was relieved to know that when I'm swamped with work and worry that birds will conspire to sing loudly enough to catch my attention.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.