I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons, male Eurasian Blackcap in Staffordshire, England.
Down at L’Arche Kent’s Glebe garden the other day it was coffee time. My friend said that he hadn’t seen our robin for a couple of weeks, only for the redbreast to burst into song a few metres away in the cypress tree. No chance of spotting him in there.
More than a few years ago my brother became frustrated with the collared doves, billing and cooing right outside his bedroom window; since they were in a yew tree there was no spotting them either. Relief came when the black silkie bantam took her brood to roost in the yew. All attempts to bring them down simply made them hop up higher, as they would have done in the jungle. But they displaced the doves, and my brother could sleep on those light summer mornings.
Too many songs have been silenced as we have desecrated our Mother Earth. Could you buy or make someone a bird nesting box this Christmas?
Both of us retired, both gardeners, both riding to the local supermarket before the crowds but after the baker has started work. It went without saying that there was never enough time in the garden or allotment for either of us, and we agreed on the importance of keeping in touch. His family are at a distance, mine close at hand, but they do worry! ‘Dad, you shouldn’t be going to the shops, you can get it all on line; we’ll do it for you.’ We agreed that while we can do it we will do it: shopping, gardening, walking. My 70+ friends in Dublin may not go to the allotment which is usually their base for the afternoon! Their daughter leaves their shopping on the doorstep.
Another quiet morning at L’Arche’s garden, beside the River Stour. Thanks o corona virus, I was alone, working outside at the table, when Robin flew down beside me, hoping that a worm or insect might appear as I emptied plants out of small pots to put them in bigger ones. He found something and flew down to share it with another robin: his wife, his hen, who made a soft call in her throat.
Back home, where this picture was taken, the robins were hunting in pairs too. They cannot abide sharing territory with any other robin, except their mate; we saw battles over the Glebe bird table a couple of yearsago.
Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.
If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence. p52.
We could also read this paragraph:
Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help. p124-5.
Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)
So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before receiving the Sacrament themselves.
Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.
After a big Christmas meal among a crowd of adults, some of them unknown to him, 18 month-old Abel was getting restless so he went and found his wellington boots. It was time for some fresh air.
By the corner of the park he stopped. He pointed at the lilac tree and shook his finger – a gesture he uses if he hears a loud noise like a siren – or grandad sneezing. Grandad’s sinuses were not challenged on this occasion; the noise was coming from the tree: Robin playing his part in the dusk chorus.
Abel watched and listened till Robin changed his perch, then said, bye bye. Off he went into the park and straight up onto the old abandoned railway line. At the top he paused again, listening. Singing close by were a thrush and blackbird as well as another robin. After listening for a while, it was bye-bye to these birds too. We were unable to see them.
We did see the gulls flying below the clouds on their way to the coast: bye-bye to them too.
It was dark when we said bye-bye to Abel, but he pointed from his car-seat to our own robin, still singing, still patrolling his boundaries by street-light. Bye-bye Abel, thank you for listening with me!
Here is Robin, watching the back door from our old Welsh angel. This stone came from St Tydfil’s churchyard in Wales. I was working on the clearing of this ground some years ago and rescued this slab of forest stone from the bulldozer and the skip.
The angel has guarded our comings and our goings since we moved to this house. If we don’t make a daily conscious prayer of thanks for God’s protection on our home, we once and for all made a concrete prayer when we put the stone on the wall.
And robin is welcome to our protection too, in the shape of a few crumbs but also a dense ivy hedge that offers protection for nesting and for roosting – and a few insects and slugs for food.
Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and may thy blessing be upon us evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Michael McCarthy, commented in The Independent recently on the lack of birdsong at this time of year:
The reason is simple: the business of mating and breeding is over and done with, and song is no longer needed. (An exception is the robin, which carries on singing as it defends its territory right through winter).
Walking to church on Sunday, we passed audibly through at least four robin territories. But there is another bird singing – the starling.
My wife called me into the garden. ‘What is the matter with the starlings?’ They were present in numbers, singing from next door’s birch tree. Not asserting individual territory, for they were happy in each other’s company. But singing they were, alleluia!
Clapping my hands did nothing to disturb them. ‘You’re wasting your time,’ said Janet, and I doubt they’d have heard less than a cannon shot.
They were also mass-murmuring in the lime trees along the road. I expressed my fears for the grapes to a neighbour, but they seem to be off the starlings’ radar. A few years ago there were very few starlings locally, and our grapes faded from their memory; the raiders now are blackbirds who operate singly.
I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.
Michael McCarthy, writing in The Independent on Monday, commented on the lack of birdsong at this time of year:
This happens across the bird world, and the reason is simple: the business of mating and breeding is over and done with, and song is no longer needed. (An exception is the robin, which carries on singing as it defends its territory right through winter).
To be sure, walking to Mass at the Franciscan International Study Centre this morning, we passed audibly through at least four robin territories. Fence posts and hawthorns seemed to be favoured singing posts today.
But there is another bird that’s singing – though maybe McCarthy would not call it singing – the starling. These sociable creatures caught my ear on a sunny afternoon last Autumn and again one evening this week, on my way to post a letter. Nothing, so far as I could tell, to do with territory, for they were in a group of twenty or more on roof-top aerials and happy enough in each other’s company. But singing they were, alleluia!