It began with an awakening, a rude and yet joyful awakening, at the imminence of dawn. Somewhere in the distance, from the village of Dial Post, a cockerel crowed – once, twice, and then, thrice.Then a Cuckoo called, dutifully, from a faraway shadowland of Oaks in the monastral west. Out there, shapes and patterns were beginning to form, from nothingness, from nebulous opacity, from shadows intensely numberless, heralded by a ghostly light which seemed to come from the ground, for frost had formed over dew-laden grass and was giving rise to a curious distortion of light – call it lightfulness – even as the frost crystals dissolved back into water. Layers of mist vapours added to the pallid light, adding tiers of colourless- ness, which changed continuously, until colours came into being. All this was seen through the smallest of windows, for such is our experience of the world.
This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details on the project go here
That first paragraph is the start of a chapter by Matthew Oates whose paperback BEYOND SPRING: Wanderings through Nature will be available from October 2017.
Inside a shepherd’s hut at Knepp Wildland the air was perishing cold, death-like almost, yet it was moving; as if it was being taken over by some unstoppable force. Something was trying to break in from another dimension. The stone in front of the tomb was being rolled away, presumably by an unseen angel who had stolen in from the great elsewhere. Within seconds the walls of the hut were vibrating, shaking almost, under the mighty onslaught of what we naively and blandly call the dawn chorus. It was total bombardment, a wall of sound and airwave movement in which it was impossible to separate individual songsters. Here at last was the full unity of being.
‘Dawn chorus’ is a pathetically inadequate term for this unified eruption of ecstatic joy, for a mass hymn of thanksgiving spontaneously offered by, or at least on behalf of, all life forms. The birds were the choristers, yes, but they were by no means alone. It felt almost as if the earth was heaving, or at least that it wanted to. Sounds were being made that are way beyond the limitations of our hearing, and were combining, through interfusion, to form something beyond our comprehension. We need antennae, to start to understand, for so much of what we categorise as being sound is actually airwave vibration, which we perceive only subconsciously.
I was chatting to my neighbour recently who said that the dawn chorus near our houses was deafening when they first moved here 25 years ago. Its still pretty loud and often wakes me in mid-spring – but what a way to be woken!!
I wonder if you have ever seen David Morley perform his poem CHORUS… You can read the poem, AND hear him read it here, on the University of Warwick website but for now, here are a few of the first lines as a taster (there is an extract of this poem in Beyond Spring – with the kind permissions of David Morley and Bloodaxe Books) :
The song-thrush slams down gauntlets on its snail-anvil.
The nightjar murmurs in nightmare. The dawn is the chorus.
The bittern blasts the mists wide with a booming foghorn.
The nuthatch nails another hatch shut. The dawn is the chorus.
I can’t do justice to the poem with these few lines. Imagine the audience whispering the dawn is the chorus to start with, their voices mounting and mounting as the energy of the poem builds – go see him do it… I first heard/ joined in with a reading of it one spring in the grounds of The Priory in Much Wenlock as part of the Wenlock Poetry Festival… it was like a hymn, like a prayer, like an Ancient Greek performance – it was like I was a child again… and I heard every word of the poem; as I needed to hear when next to come in with “The dawn is the chorus”.
And that is how the dawn chorus strikes you isn’t it!
The robin, the songthrush, the blackbird are the first to start singing.
People have their theories about why birds sing before and at dawn.
But who needs theories when you have the dawn? A time that is magical, when most human beings are asleep, that is often only heard by revellers traipsing home in the early hours, by shift workers, by milkmen – where there still are milkmen.
It has been there before we ever existed as a species
It is free for anyone to enjoy
It is the time of day when, if we stop and listen… we all become poets, artists, better…
Here are some images I have found online:
And here are a few links with some more information :RSPB: on The Voices of Spring
BBC iplayer Radio 4 on International Dawn Chorus Day
BBC iplayer radio 4 with Brett Westwood
The British Library on the Dawn Chorus with a recording from 1998
Guardian article on the Dawn Chorus
This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project – DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here