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 “Season of Change and Loss” in Winter: A Spiritual Biography
The tree, and its haunting bird,
Are the loves of my heart;
But where is the word, the word,
Oh where is the art,
To say, or even to see,
For a moment of time,
What the Tree and the Bird must be
In the true sublime?
They shine, listening to the soul,
And the soul replies;
But the inner love is not whole,
and the moment dies.
Oh give me before I die
The grace to see
With eternal, ultimate eye,
The Bird and the Tree.
The song in the living Green,
The Tree and the Bird –
Oh have they ever been seen,
Ever been heard?
~Ruth Pitter “The Bird in the Tree”
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 serenade of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering from the treetops, the occasional dog barking, woodpeckers hammering at tree bark 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. Our horses, confined to their stalls in the barns, snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
But there are no longer birdsong arias; I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring.
And no peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is way too quiet – clearly a time of bereavement. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, is like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat of spring — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony.
Oh, give me the grace to see and hear the Bird in the Tree with an eternal ultimate eye and ear.
Between the March and April line—
That magical frontier
Beyond which summer hesitates,
Almost too heavenly near.
The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,
The maddest noise that grows and grows,—
The birds, they make it in the spring,
At night’s delicious close.
The saddest noise I know.
It makes us think of all the dead
That sauntered with us here,
By separation’s sorcery
Made cruelly more dear.
It makes us think of what we had,
And what we now deplore.
We almost wish those siren throats
Would go and sing no more.
An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear,
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.
~Lyrics adapted from an Emily Dickinson poem
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