• Gordon MacLellan

Ruffled chestnut gentleness

Listen to a world waking

Sunday 3rd May

International Dawn Chorus Day

How early is early? When do I need to get up?

Sunrise here in Buxton tomorrow is 05.29, in London 5.27. Organised Dawn Chorus events often involved getting up about 4am, staggering about, meeting a group of shivering people in a car park, trudging hopefully into a field or down a woodland path and standing there while someone who knows far more than you or me tells us all about all these different birds and, “O there! That one! The one that sounds Completely Different to This One…that’s a Thingy”…..I’ve forgotten by the time I get back to the car. The songs I hear never seem to match what other people tell me I should be hearing.

But tomorrow, you could get up early and shuffle into your garden in your dressing gown and fluffy slippers (keep your bedhat on if you want to), sit on a kitchen chair, drink an early morning tea from your favourite mug. And listen. Or open a window and snuggle on a cushion with that mug beside you again. No-one to tell you what’s right or wrong or identify the differences. Just listen. Enjoy. Hear the sound that washes over you in cascades of ripples. Inner city? Try the window, or the garden, or the back yard. Have a go. Listen. That early in the day, the world is largely still. Sounds carries. I hope you might get a pleasant surprise and hear the birds you didn’t know were there

Identifications? There are places to go: try the RSPB or Mark Avery’s lovely posts to help pin down what you are hearing – or heard (could you record songs on your phone and work out afterwards what they were?)

There is a lovely story from Ireland about St Kevin, a 7th Century saint, who was so deep in prayer one day that a blackbird laid her eggs in his upturned palm. Kevin then remained still until the eggs hatched and the brood fledged. There are similar stories in many faiths. From St Kevin, we might turn to Persian stories of robins, or meet St Cuthbert and “Cuddy’s Ducks” on the Farne Isles (Eider ducks). There is a lovely Jain story about the prince Bahubali who meditated for so long and so deeply in the forest that the vines grew round his legs and birds nested in his beard.

You might not stay that still for that long but please do give yourself time this weekend to stop and listen. Just enjoy the moment. The poet Harry Owen in his current series of Lockdown Poems from South Africa says:

We're very lucky: we have a garden filled with birds. Throughout my life I have found restoration, therapy and renewal in nature. Here is one simple example of how it works.

Lockdown Poem 14


He waits on a stone outside the back door. For what, I wonder? Just an olive thrush, young, bedraggled, alone. Ever watching, always there on his rock beneath the hedge.

Warily tame, disconcerted perhaps by us but not afraid, he simply sits, an avian Buddha below his tree, a bird of infinite patience and calm.

What are we? Who? This over-leaning bush is both roof and larder, its door open to the canopy and sky. Loneliness? Or self-containment? He looks in softly.

I could take you through now and he’d be there, hunched up in ruffled chestnut gentleness, a presence like the soil, the hedge, the stone. We could stand, talk, wait, and be together.

Harry Owen

and we'll close with someone who you are almost sure to hear tomorrow morning - or any morning just now! Amsel, Merle, Ouzel, Woofell: the Blackbird

With many thanks to all our artists and contributors

From the top:

  • Song thrush and Chaffinch: c. I MacLellan (visit Ian Mac, flickr stream)

  • Poem and thrush: c. Harry Owen

  • Blackbird: Jill Kerr (see more of Jill's prints, here)

70 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All