I’m sitting at my desk on the last morning in February, very early. It’s Saturday, and my family’s still asleep. It’s been a cold winter in Beaufort, SC, and according to my weather widget, it will be cold again today. High around 50. And, yes, I know that’s not actually cold, but this is Beaufort, SC.
Still, even though it’s cold – and, at this hour, still dark – I hear spring outside my door. And what it sounds like is birdsong. It starts small and soft, with one lone voice – the “we need you, we need you” of the Carolina wren – then steadily crescendos, voice by voice, finally exploding into a symphony. (Some might call it a cacophony, but I’m learning to listen. Learning to hear the music.) It’s still black outside my window, but I imagine the trees filling, bird by bird, cardinal by blue jay by starling. A gathering of souls. A morning prayer service. Lauds. The image makes me smile.
Will this be the year I begin to “study” the birds like a proper scientist? Will I learn to identify the lesser-known species by their various markings, recognize their nuanced calls, understand their life cycles? They deserve as much – deserve to be truly known – but I almost fear spoiling the symbolism, messing with the magic. I’ve come to see these winged wonders that flit and dart through our days, so often unnoticed, as the quintessential reminder of God’s boundless creativity and extravagant love. Who can be sad – who can feel despair or loneliness – when such splendid creatures exist? They’re like flowers – beauty for sheer beauty’s sake – but they fly and even sing! Surely five minutes in a backyard full of birds is more powerful medicine than the strongest anti-depressant. Surely these marvels are more than just feather and beak and bone.
I have sorely missed my birds this winter. They have been scarce and silent and my spirit has felt their absence. As I sit listening to them fill my backyard with song – the band’s back together, y’all! – I remember a Wordsworth poem I once loved, back before graduate school (and post-structuralism) “murdered to dissect” poetry for me. I Google the poem, read it, and decide I love it again. Praise be! Like springtime and birdsong, Wordsworth always comes back to you.
The Tables Turned
UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.