They are singing whether or not we listen. On this warm, bright morning, a robin spills his curlicue song from the top of a poplar in the neighbor’s yard. In the white caves of the blooming crabapple, a catbird sputters his ecstasy like a Pentecostalist speaking in tongues. A red-eyed vireo carries on in the alders beyond our garden. He is said to sing, “Here I am. In the trees. Here. Here.”
But I hear, “Are you all right? I’m OK. Are you all right?”
I don’t know.
A hermit thrush flutes his ethereal song in the spruce woods beyond our meadow. His cousin the veery chimes in “vee-ur, vee-ur, veer.” From a tamarack, a black-throated green warbler sings “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee,” and a common yellow throat calls “witchety-witchety-witchety” in a birch. An American redstart lets loose in a stand of chokecherries, “tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee-choo!”
More than a dozen species sing as I weed the garden. I picture each bird in my mind’s eye: The hermit thrush with his rusty tail and speckled breast; the yellow throat with his Zorro mask; the black and orange redstart, who survived an unimaginable journey from South America to sing in our scraggly yard in Maine. So did the vireo and the veery.
I listen to the birds as hard as I can. I try not to take even the most common and incessant songs for granted: The robin’s, the catbird’s, the song sparrow’s whistles and trills ping-ponging in the weeds. Yet my attention fades, and my thoughts return to their earthbound ruts. What to do with this rage, this helplessness, this sorrow over the sickness and violence stealing so many lives?
“Are you all right? I’m OK. Are you all right?”
I don’t know.
The birds fall quiet as the sun climbs toward noon. Tomorrow morning, they will be singing whether or not we listen. Robins and catbirds and sparrows will sing outside my bedroom windows and yours, in every town and city and wild place, beginning in the hour before dawn. They will sing outside the windows of a family grieving for their beloved partner, father, son, brother, who was killed by a cop kneeling on his neck, choking the life out of him as he cried for his mother. They will sing outside the windows of the accused killer and his accomplices. They will sing outside the windows of a demented man trying to turn his own people against each other. They will sing outside the windows of those who are sick, frightened and alone. They will sing outside the windows of those resisting violence and caring for the vulnerable.
In this season of beauty and terror, the birds will be singing whether or not we listen.
Every morning, may we open our eyes. May we open our windows. May we listen.
Kimberly Ridley is a science writer, essayist and children’s book author who lives in Brooklin.