The birds (July 2017)

The call and response between a chickadee and a sparrow is a lovely thing in the fading light. It’s a clear-sky dusk and perhaps you are in conversation with other writers. You have wine and the remnants of a stifling hot day is being replaced by a cool, mountain night. You’re on the deck with a group of instructors, at a writing camp in the foothills of Alberta. Tonight you lose track of the human voices. The bird sound rises from the under bough of pines and insists itself. It could be the wine, but you start to think the birds are calling you. They want you to go into the forest and listen. Come, they say. Come and be silent in the forest. So you do. You walk into the forest surrounding the camp. You try to be silent, and listen with your ears, and nose, and eyes, and heart. The light is a soft dusky shadow as you weave yourself between the pines. The birdsong stops, then starts again but now, slightly different. You are not so romantic that you are dumb about it. You do not expect a message from the great beyond. Nor do you expect a flash of insight, or sudden understanding of some elusive problem. You start to find humour in this little excursion. The birds weren’t calling you. You manufactured meaning in something you found to be beautiful. The birds were just being birds. You stop, put your back to a pine, and breathe. For a few minutes, you focus on inhaling and exhaling, as if you are waiting for something. You breathe birdsong, exhale gratitude. You breathe silence, exhale the aloneness you carry always. You open your eyes and it is only darker. You stumble and fall on the way back – scrape your hand on some rocks, feel foolish, impetuous, dumb.

Back on the deck, one of the writers asks where you were. “Just getting more wine,” you say. To prove the point, you take a sip of your wine. She tilts her head as she looks at you – as if she’s attempting to weigh something. Then she shakes her head and smiles. “The birds. They were calling you, weren’t they?”