Tipping the scales
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
Sometimes, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to find myself in the grip of a very specific type of dread. This dread only visits at 3 am, when all is dark and seemingly still. It consistently goes for my throat and chest, latching on with a ferocity that I can’t help but feel is malevolent. I have found that my only recourse in the face of this visitor is my imagination—instead of laying paralysed in bed, I picture myself in a hole, deep in the ground. Sometimes, I can smell the earth which makes up the walls of my imaginary container. I am not covered, I can see the mouth of this make-believe well far above me, where the surface is—where the dread is. This earthen cocoon feels sentient. It offers to hold me until morning and allows me to drift back to sleep.
Upon waking, the dread is usually a fading memory—but lately, it has bridged the gap of the morning hours and, defying the sun, remained embedded in my torso as I go about my day. So far, I’ve been unable to identify its cause or the lesson it might be offering, but it feels existential.
As people go, I like to think of myself as being relatively at peace with the transitory and precarious nature of my existence. I wonder then, whether my dread is in fact ‘the’ dread; a collective dread in response to what it is that we seem to be facing—whether we are willingly, consciously facing it or not. I wonder if, in those dark hours when distraction and demand have retreated, the dread rises like the tide under a Full Moon and sits, black and silver, waiting to engulf all those who wake into it.
When weighed down in this way, when dread joins forces with gravity, I look to my feathered friends. They do not appear to be experiencing this heaviness (though, externally, nor do I). I imagine that their internal landscapes are ones of pure presence—a consciousness I could only dream of inhabiting. Prior to caring for Birds at the rescue centre, my interactions with them had consisted of a passing interest as and when I saw them in the garden, so it was fascinating to learn that the youngsters of various species all have very distinct ways of being.
Baby Blackbirds are angels. They are the good students who sit quietly and don’t protest when you pick them up—they just open their beaks unspeakably wide and orientate their gaping mouths toward you.
Juvenile Blue Tits are the class disrupters, they hang upside down from things and yell at you. When you pick them up they’ll lock their tiny beaks onto your finger while looking you dead in the eye—until you offer them something to eat, then they’ll willingly let go to accept it.
Sparrows are maniacs, too, but in a different, far more frenetic, way. All birds ‘turn’, meaning that there’s a marked point where they transition from fervently demanding to be fed, to making it clear that they don’t want you anywhere near them (so, from children to teenagers), and with Sparrows this seems to happen over the course of about 15 minutes.
Long Tailed Tits are Disney characters. Given some ribbon and half the chance they’d braid your hair while twittering away about how beautiful you are.
Baby Starlings are glorious little freaks who, as juveniles, look like Disney villains and snatch menacingly as you try to feed them. When you pick one up the entire building will know, as they have a penchant for the dramatic.
And then, of course, within each of these species, each individual Bird has its own unique personality.
The consistently brilliantrecently shared this piece, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In it, he speaks to the multiple forms of migration currently taking place around us; human and animal, some instinctual, some forced. One paragraph in particular has stuck with me:
The birds and the rest of us — we all move or stumble onward through life with no guarantees of safety. A Broad-winged Hawk might migrate thousands of miles this autumn or next spring only to find its usual forest destination on fire or gone altogether. It would be like passengers on a transcontinental flight discovering before landing that their airport was now a shopping mall or an oil refinery or a clear-cut.
Words and phrases such as ‘migration’, and ‘biodiversity loss’ have become so familiar that it can be difficult to register the fact that these catch-alls refer to large groups of individual beings; each one having their own unique experience of the upheaval.
I mentioned to David some of what had been on my mind, and he pondered as to what the experience of the very last Passenger Pigeon or the last Javan Tiger would have been before they went extinct. Would they have had a sense that they were the very last of their kind? Would they have felt some nagging dread? He went on to say, “You know if there were only one Bengal Tiger left in the world, some sick fuck would pay a fortune to be the person to hunt it”.
And he’s right. Someone probably would. And that’s exactly why my greatest hope is that we all, in whatever way we feel most moved to, find active ways to profess our love—for the natural world, for our brothers and sisters, human and otherwise.
May we tip the scales away from dread, greed, and thoughtlessness in the favour of love, attention, and reverence, through many a small, devotional act.
Thank you for reading, and for being here. We’re in Wales. We’ve been canoeing some of the canals in Brecon, and actively orientating our attention toward our surroundings. This includes trying to consider what state we are in, and exactly what it is that we are bringing into these quiet places. Initially, I was bringing a lot in that didn’t belong there, that the environment had not asked for, and did not warrant. I had to put a lot of turmoil down before I was able to show up for that water, those trees, and that air in a way that felt adequately respectful. And when I did, the barrier between what I perceive as ‘me’ and what I perceive as ‘the environment’, graciously began to fade.
Yours in aimless flight,