This is the time of year when the best concert starts in many gardens and forests of the northern hemisphere. The dawn chorus is probably something we all should listen to at some point in our lives.
I remember my father taking me for a dawn walk in the forest near our home in Jastrzebie Zdroj. The countless overlapping stories told by the birds up in the branches were in such beautiful contrast to our 8th floor apartment assembled from silent prefabricated pieces of cold manmade stuff.
I am not even sure if my memories are completely correct on this one. Perhaps we did not walk at dawn. But we did walk into the forest. And I do remember bird songs so intense so beautiful. It was like an unspoken lesson that we were all part of a larger divine system.
My father worked in a coal mine at that time. But I did not get to make any connection to that back then.
When over ten years later I returned home from a night of working in a small television studio in Bad Homburg, the birds were so loud that they made it almost impossible to sleep. I remember driving my 1972 Mercedes Benz 200/8 among the fields and forests with the windows open so I could hear the dawn chorus. I tried to drive as gently as possible and the engine was capable of a very subtle purring sound. Had Homburg is much higher above Frankfurt than Hanau am Main is, and so there were some stretches where I could just let the car roll, the engine in even quieter in idle. Just the big horizon blue car, the giant star on its hood awakening to the new light, the strangely natural smell of the horse hair stuffed seats, the wind through all the open windows, the white steering wheel, like and ivory object in both hands and the birds, the birds, the birds.
There were days when I would arrive at our house in complete silence and darkness. Then shut the door of the car and as I walked into the front garden, the first birds would start their concert. On some days I would just stand there for a few moments, with my body tingling from exhaustion and listened to the many messages of little descendants of dinosaurs telling each other. Stay out! or maybe to come closer! Or many other messages that were much older than even my species perhaps? Older than anything the species ever created too.
I would then often just head into my room and close the very typical German window shutters. They are capable of closing to precisely that no light whatsoever can enter the room and almost no sound. I often could still hear the birds.
The 3D animation I had been working on all night was then still playing in my head, and I would fall asleep hoping that the “massive 600MB hard drive” would record a sequence of correct images that would eventually make a title for a commercial, to sell anything from candy to sophisticated lighting systems for skyscrapers.
It is cold outside now. And as I am writing this, the chorus is slowly calming down. The clocks were just moved forward by an hour yesterday, so more people might be able to hear the concert. And how good it is to hear it, in this incredibly challenging time. For so many humans the night and the dawn were spent attached to machines that are trying to help them breathe as they are fighting an assault on their bodies. A possibly deadly condition triggered by something that while not alive is really skilled at spreading and multiplying.
Many of the people who are with them are putting themselves into incredible danger to make this not be the last morning for their patients. Some of them will leave the hospitals maybe around now, after a gruesome nightshift on the edge of death and they will probably hear the birds shout at each other in a most beautiful way.
It is that beauty that was here long before us and will be here long after we are gone. Or is it only beautiful because we are listening to it as an audience? Because our life does not depend on being a small winged creature with an exceptionally developed set of vocal cords?
At any point in my live, no matter if I was just a boy or at the early life or now, never have I actually been able to truly understand any of the complexity that makes this very moment so beautiful. And I wonder if that’s one of the keys to its secret. Not being able to precisely decipher a message, connect all the dots, know why everything is precisely the way it is. I am very grateful for the bits and pieces I think I do understand. But I am also very grateful for my acceptable ignorance and innocence.
How would the birds sound if I considered that my father spent his nights working in a coal mine, excavating ancient forests that must have been filled with incredible songs beyond our imagination? How would they sound if we consider that me driving a car through a forest possibly very gently contributed to some of its death? And how would the songs of the birds feel for me if I at all points considered the impact I might have had on the bird species by creating advertising for skyscraper lighting systems. Is what we marvel at now a mere shadow of what could be? It is never the same. Nothing can be.
For the next few weeks I will try to listen to the dawn chorus as much as I can. Perhaps I will manage to be outside somewhere between the big trees of Hampstead Heath. I will marvel at the beauty that is only possible because of the massive complex system in which I mostly play an utterly insignificant role. The beauty of it all is what makes it worth being though.
A miracle of unimaginable proportions.
Even the very, very scary parts.