I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing

A few years ago in a forest in northeast India, I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounded meteorological, but it was the wingbeats of a pair of great hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They had massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they looked like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clambered around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, I found myself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It had nothing to do with what I wanted or what I possessed. It was the sheer gorgeous fact of the great hornbill, which couldn’t have cared less about me.

The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value. They are always among us but never of us. They’re the other world-dominating animals that evolution has produced, and their indifference to us ought to serve as a chastening reminder that we’re not the measure of all things. The stories we tell about the past and imagine for the future are mental constructions that birds can do without. Birds live squarely in the present. And at present, although our cats and our windows and our pesticides kill billions of them every year, and although some species, particularly on oceanic islands, have been lost forever, their world is still very much alive. In every corner of the globe, in nests as small as walnuts or as large as haystacks, chicks are pecking through their shells and into the light.

~ Jonathan Franzen, from Why Birds Matter, and Are Worth Protecting (NatGeo, January 2018)


Photo of Great Hornbill by Roham Sheikholeslami

Saturday Morning

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But we had long ago shed our busyness. The basic measure of time, the tempo around which we arranged ourselves, the water lapping, the sky slowly changing from paper white to cobalt blue, was the tempo of boating retirees. Or maybe it was the tempo of firebrand revolutionaries on a wildcat strike against industry. Either way, we were Not Working. We had desynchronized from productive time frames. My chronic sense of being late for some appointment dissolved. I heard the clicking of the musician’s shutter and looked up to see the western grebe stretching and spreading its wings. Then the western grebe retracted its wings and went back to floating.

~ Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation 


Notes:

Just for the joy of it

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What is worth singing about? What if the song is too small? Books will tell you that birds sing for a number of reasons— to call to each other, to warn of predators, to navigate, to attract mates. But I wasn’t so much interested in what the books believed. I wanted to know what the musician believed. “Why do birds sing?” So, at the end of our first bird walk together, I asked. I wanted him to say they sing because they have to, because they must, because it is part of their very essence, an irrepressible need. […]

Slowly the musician nodded his head. Finally, he said, “Okay. It’s possible that birds may sing just for the joy of it.” I don’t know why his response made me so happy but it did.

~ Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation 

 


Notes:

the experience altered him

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The musician became a bird lover at the aviary. He tells a story of holding a dying finch one day and feeling overwhelmed by its tiny heartbeat. He had never studied a bird so closely before, never observed its delicate and immaculate plumage, and the experience altered him.

~ Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation 

 


Notes:

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