As a counterpoint to Christmas I’m very happy to post this piece and accompanying video by Malcolm Green, bird lover and storyteller. His captivating collaboration with Tim Dalling, Shearwater, has this year toured the length and breadth of the country and will be returning to Orkney for next year’s Festival.
I like the idea that the starlings are putting on a show for those with time to stand and look in North America too.
Reed (Phragmites australis) is the species in the Celtic Tree Calendar for October 28th – November 23rd.
Starlings at Lambley
I first noticed the starlings on a walk with Pat on November 10th (2013). They were in the reed beds of the Lambley water treatment plant; the reeds alive with their pre-sleep twitter as they found their best perch for the night. Sometimes five or six excited birds clung to one stalk so many had collapsed.
Then another night from a distance, a ball of them flew through the sky – in turn visible and invisible, expanding and contracting, like a breath. Breath-taking.
Again on December 8th, I went to the same spot with Paul and we stood beside the reed bed from three o’clock in the afternoon. We watched them assemble; one little flock after the next joining the gathering cloud – a ballet of birds that whipped and whooped through the sky, round and round our heads. How many were there? Perhaps 20,000 or so individuals that joined together to become a single gyrating organism.
I read on Google that it is possible to understand the movement of the flock mathematically. It’s also easy to project all sorts of meanings onto this extraordinary dance. But the experience seems to defy rational explanation and this, in a way, is its power. The sight and sound transcends our mental murmurings and busy calculations to simply set our cells aflutter with excitement and awe. A reminder that there is a real, living world away from the desk and the screen.
I believe they have left the little reed bed now. Perhaps they flattened all the available stalks and it is no longer a refuge. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Starlings in Winter
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart pumping hard, I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbably beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.