At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.
He knew that he heard it,
A bird’s cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind
The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.
It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep’s faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.
That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,
Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.
—Wallace Stevens Not Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself
Ol’ Uncle Walt Disney gave us TRUE Life Adventures starting in the mid-fifties. Remember? The Living Desert? The epic battle between the wasp and the tarantula, two tortoises battling for domination by turning each other over. The desert blooming after a raging thunderstorm, etc. etc. Flowers unfurling in slow motion. We had Marlin Perkins every Sunday night drawing analogies between Darwinian survival and the benefits of Mutual of Omaha Life insurance as lions and tigers and bears played across the old Zenith. Since then, David Attenborough is the gold medal champ of nature films, he’s ably carried the torch, bringing us vivid heartbreaking films of the natural world and creatures alive and fascinating. We are taken to the ocean depths with voyeuristic keyhole glimpses of the mating rituals of the Stickleback. We’ve seen Birds of Paradise on their well-tended dancing grounds doing dances that would put a Bolshoi Prima to shame. And the costumes!!! We are so grateful to the filmmakers crouching for endless hours in stifling tropical blinds and frostbite huddles who bring us those wondrous pictures of the world’s phantasmagoria. We are grateful for the artistry and are in gracious receipt as we watch on our glimmering flat-screens. But…to be in the very air where things are taking place; to be in the same air as events unfold does a thing to our brains that can’t be duplicated by any filmmaker, visionary or quotidian.
So, when word of the murmuration came to us, that it was the E-Ticket to an experience not to be duplicated, our son Eli gathered us to meet to watch the spectacle. Us was 2 of our kids, their wives and 5 grand kids, gathered in the parking lot of the Northgate Mall. 10,000 Starlings swooping and pattering against a crepuscular sky was a must. Did we have to drag ourselves across Namibian wastes? Did we have to suffer the squeezing cramps from bad foreign water? No. There were about 300 souls amiably chatting across the parking lot of the Northgate Cineplex and since it was New Year’s Eve some amount of champagne was poured out into paper cups. Folks were in huddles with scopes and tripods. As the sky leaned into dusky pastel, sun still peaking above the hill crest, it started with with a few plumes of what looked like smoke drifting in from the North resolving into a lozenge of flittering birds in tightly ordered moving cloud. “Just wait,” said grandson Jude (age 6). Living close by he’d seen the spectacle a couple of days before, now feeling like a grizzled veteran. Then from the north a whole airy mountain of birds flittered out of the sky, some flashing bright orange as they went high enough to catch a sunbeam. Then it started back, and forth rising and subsiding in shapes like breath, hundreds of birds knowing just how to move in a tight unison. Was it the few falcons Peregrine or maybe Merlins? (hard to see without good field glasses) that were harrying the Starlings? Seems so as flocking in motion like that is a good strategy for not getting eaten.The predator birds were the conductors of this music.
So, to see a natural spectacle in what some have called our dying burning world, gives hope on this New Year’s Eve for the everlasting thrill of seeing Nature glorious and heart stirring, and seeing this in the same air as you and the birds are breathing, gives a true life adventure to the spectacle.