practicing 10: birdsong soup and the astonishments of just after dawn
there is an art to being still, and i am practicing.
the birth of the day, it seems, is the hour that calls me. and, actually, all i’m going for is a mere slice of that hour. ten minutes, for starters. for beginners like me.
there is little hope, i figure, of trying to squeeze it in, in the thick of the day, between all the rushing and dashing and typing and trolling for words.
and, at the end of the day, when the blanket of stars are out and the house is winding down to a hum, i figure my brain has gone blank, in that numb — not that crisp — sort of a way. or, worse, it’s so overstuffed by that hour that all i’d do is churn and re-churn whatever the day had left in its wake. there’d be no stillness within.
it’s hard enough at the dawn. hard enough to keep the tick-tock at bay.
but i’ve begun.
before the first dabs of light are soaking the low-down sky, i am tiptoeing out of my bed, stumbling downstairs, grinding my coffee beans (a wake-up noise, i tell you, that might be essential, at least till i’m through with the whole-bean bag i didn’t fully intend to grab from the grocery shelf). the cat, always hungry, demands his share of my morning attentions — and a scoop from the tin in the fridge.
then, warm mug cupped in my palms, i reach for the door, and step under the holiest dome, the dome of the dawn as it breaks into double-time spring.
and that’s when it hit me, my first morning out: i’d just stepped into a cauldron of birdsong soup. there were so many layers of so many sounds, coming from so many places, my ears — at first — could barely pick it apart.
there were trills and caw-caws and whistles and chatter. short notes and fat notes. and notes that seemed without end, twisting and tumbling and climbing again. notes most insistent, and notes that dribbled off, into ellipses.
it seemed, pretty much, a gymnastics meet of bird sound. all those itty-bitty throats and tongues and lungs thrusting and lunging, spinning and twirling. all that was missing was chalk dust and numbers pinned to their backs.
and it all, all at once, seemed to be moving, whirling around me, as one song took flight, and soared to a nearby limb. or criss-crossed the sky. or merely hopped down the branch, in search of a cozier, noisier perch.
it was surround-sound at its most heavenly, this ever-circling orchestral creation, powered by wings and lungs whose weights would be measured in grams. a whole-bodied chorister not even one ounce.
and all i knew that very first morning was that everywhere i listened, there was a full-throttle sound track not to be missed. one i’d too often slept through. or, sadder, ignored in my packing of lunches, and checking of schedules.
it wasn’t as if this was new, this spanish moss of bird song, dripping from trees.
it’s been there, just beyond the panes of the windows, the other side of the door.
it was only that i’d not carved out the wisp of an hour, made room for the stillness, so that what was there all along could make its way into my eardrums, and down to my soul.
once my head stopped spinning, i did what any student of stillness must do: i planted myself firmly, solidly, on the seat of the bench in my not-so-secret garden, the one that runs along the kitchen, the one that meanders, the one that catches the morning’s first light.
i tried not to think, just to be. one with the birdsong.
and i started to look, not to glance but to study.
it wasn’t hard, what with the week’s thermometer cranked up to summertime, to notice how spring was galloping out of the ground.
i sat and watched chives grow, those early-spring straight-backed soldiers of pungence, the ones i’m already snipping for lox and sprinkling on cream cheese, not unlike bits of newly-mown grass that i bring in for breakfast.
and then, just down the walk, i spied the bleeding heart. overnight, or so it seemed, it had emerged, a jazz ensemble of cut-leaf precision and a green so velvety green, it made me want to pluck it to wear it. wrap it round my bare shoulders, or better yet make it into a slip and let the morning breeze play between it and my skin.
i have to admit, stillness didn’t come easy. wasn’t a natural fit, not for me, anyways.
before my 10 minutes was clocked, i was itching to dig in the dirt. i’d tallied a list that beckoned me and my ministrations: the climbing hydrangea that needed a lifeguard, weeds that might do with a shrill short blast of a whistle, demanding they stop in their trespassing tracks.
but i also noticed this: the longer you sit in rapt silence, utter attention, the deeper you sink into the whole of it, the line between you and the earth and the sky and the dew all but evaporating.
my next morning out, it was chilly. and a soft morning’s rain added its backbeat to the birdsong. so i sat with my stillness on an old wicker chair, inside the porch with the screens. from across the garden, and under the pines, i listened to raindrops measuring time with the ping-ping-ping from the downspouts.
while it’s not yet under my skin, this time-out for the soul, i can feel it working its way to the wellspring, this sacred act of tiptoeing out of bed to catch the morning unaware.
i’ve a sense that sprinklings of wisdom might fall on that place deep inside where the knowing is.
and in the calm of the dawn, i might remember the words to the prayer that, for too long, have been dimmed. and very much missing.
do you practice stillness? how do you weave it into the hustle and bustle of your everyday?
In the stillness is the dancing!
lest the duplicate name surprise or confound anyone, tis my mama, aka barbara the wiser. that is often how she refers to herself. but i’m guessing the little comment commands made her think she needed to list her full proper name.
and, yes, that’s a line i’ve heard her profess most of my life. this apple did not fall far from her tree. no matter her occasional protestations otherwise…..
During this week, unlike you bam, I’ve been practicing stillness at the end of the day rather than at the crack of dawn. On these summerish springtime evenings, John and I have been retreating to the patio with some cheese and wine. We watch the robins splash around in the birdbath and listen to the cardinal sing from his perch in the crabapple tree and the blackbirds chatter from their nest deep in the old evergreen shrub. We marvel at the butterflies fluttering so early in the season and wish the carpenter bees would find somewhere else to drill their perfectly round nesting holes besides the wooden beams above our heads. As we share these quiet moments, the cares of the day fade away and we feel light-hearted.
hh, i envy your marvelous capacity to let it all flow away in that interlude between evening and nightfall. too often in this house, someone’s deadline has mucked up that civilized hour i grew up observing. where the grownups took to the living room or the terrace out back, with cold wet something in hand, and whispered conversation, and out-loud laughter, and stories that didn’t seem intended for wee small ears.
p.s. i can’t believe you’ve seen bees already. and BUTTERFLIES?!?!?! yowzer….
Yes indeedy…we’ve got the birds and the bees AND the butterflies over here. As a matter of fact, I’m watching a butterfly flitting around the yard right now from my kitchen window.
I also seek still moments in the early hours, before the day’s demands ratchet up. I walk the dog at 6 so that we don’t run into other dogs and walkers, which turn cattle dog-terrier Jasper into a screeching whirling dervish on a pogo stick, pretty much ending any silence! But when we have the street and park to ourselves, I can listen for the trilling robins, the ping-ping-pinging cardinals and maybe the drumming of our neighborhood downy woodpecker, which loves my aged catalpa. I can bid the fading moon good morning and greet the rising sun. It is quite nice.
i love that you brought fading moon into this conversation. i don’t think i saw him this week. he might have been hiding behind the house…
Ah, I think she was hiding between the Earth and the sun–new moon?
I love the early hours. When I ‘d awaken in the too-wee hours, I never knew in the dark if it was time to rise or time to try to catch a few more winks. Now I just listen. If the birds are twittering away, it’s time to rise. They make a nice alarm clock. ( Though I think I recall from an earlier posting that your dear husband doesn’t think so! )
HA! good memory, nanc. indeed he thinks it’s noise. nettlesome noise. how can that be?!?! and the astonishing thing: i love him anyway….
I’m not much of a morning person, but I do love to wake up to the early morning birdsong of spring. That is such a peaceful sound, one calling to the other for what seems to be hours on end. And I am thrilled that every day brings more and more new birds to the yard at our new home. Feeders really do wonders! I fill the feeders, put out the water, and have a cup of tea as I watch them all flutter in and out. Last week it was nice enough to sit outside while I enjoyed that sight!
I practice my own brand of stop, breathe, reflect, listen, as I go throughout the day. This moment is the only place I can be, and the only place I truly want to be, because it is the prize, but…the past and the future are noisy and disruptive, so I am learning to tell those two unruly ones to sit down and shut up, I’m in THIS moment now. And it’s awesome.
And our bird feeder slows everyone down in this house, as we gaze and smile–and we hit the pause button.
Good Morning BAM!! Just discovered you by accident as I was googling my business – Birdsong Soups- and you came up. So happy you did and even though it is cold and crunchy and snowy winter here in Mpls. you brought me right back to spring…so much for living in the moment:)
Wanted to let you know I will be following your words now and hoping they will help me slow down, sit down and simply listen and be.
Thank you for that gift.
Pam (in Mpls) – where are you?