ecstatic celestial gestures
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
A slight break in usual programming this time as I have Covid, and it’s rendered my brain virtually useless. The week has been a strangely intense one, and so part of me welcomes the forced rest. Prior to getting sick I had consistently been breaking all the rules I have around the amount of news that I expose myself to—it was as though I forgot I had ever self-imposed them. Needless to say, heartache abounds.
The trees are just starting to turn here and, thanks to plenty of warm days and cool nights, it looks set to be a colourful Autumn. I find myself enraptured by this shift, this creeping display of arboreal attunement, until guilt breaks the spell. “Who are you,” says Guilt, “to delight? There is so much suffering, and yet you stand here delighting at the subtleties of leaves?”. Ashamed, I avert my gaze.
Murmuration season has just begun. Many Starlings in the UK are residents year round, but those in Northern Europe will, as the temperature cools, make their way here to spend Winter. Starlings seemingly find safety in numbers, roosting together in large groups and, around dusk and dawn, taking to the sky collectively to form murmurations.
A murmuration of Starlings is truly an other worldly thing to behold. I’ve had the honour twice; once in California, and once in Sussex—but thanks to modern technology the privilege is available to everyone.
Murmurations are formed by hundreds, often thousands (up to 750,000), of Starlings collectively moving in unpredictable undulation, forming fleeting wave and shape, rivalling any human dancer. How such a vast number of beings are able to move as though one is, apparently, down to each Bird being highly attuned to the seven Birds nearest to it—each reacting to its neighbour in 1/10th of a second, the succession of reactions creating ripples, surges and swells.
There is no aerodynamic advantage to the Birds moving in this way, and scientists posit that it is either an invitational display to other Starlings to join the flock in order to provide warmth, or that it is a means of avoiding predation—that the Birds on the edge of these displays are moving inwards for safety.
I have my own theory as to why they do this. I think it’s for the sheer joy of it.
When I watch these murmurations—so named due to the murmuring sound that many thousands of wings collectively make—when I watch this ecstatic, celestial gesture, I find something of me which I cannot name, also moving in unison. Perhaps it is an invitation, after all. I certainly feel called to join.
Awe struck, Guilt appears, and again asks who am I to delight in this way, in the face of so much suffering, in the face of so much Death.
And to Guilt, my heart replies, “I must. I must”.
Yours in aimless flight,