Symphony of the Songbird by Thresa Clinton
It's a crescendo of complimentary songs; whistles are met with staccato chirps, whirls with echoing wood pecks and all of it emphasized with the fluttering of wings and shifting of responding cries. This symphony is nature's own surround sound in this shaded woodland, hidden away from the stresses and distractions of the chaotic world. Softly ruffling leaves add depth to this natural composition, while the swaying branches creak like the percussion of a dream.
I ran here, across the field which lies beyond our windows, out of reach of the dog run. This tethering, which spans from the house to the edge of the pines, was crafted by my handy Dad before I could even walk. When I turned and looked back at my best friend who was trapped by this creation, the most magnificent mutt to ever love, he was staring at me expectantly with his tail wagging. My heart almost stopped my feet as the guilt of continuing on without him slowed my pace. A deep breath mid-stride, born of exhaustion and uncertainty, seemed to refresh my need to escape as if an inhaled reminder of the freedom awaiting. With one final glance back, I tried to tell him with my eyes I'd be back soon, hoping this would compensate for the words currently trapped within by heavy breaths.
Every step turned the siding to stripes and brick details to muddled dots as the house shrank away. The sounds of the creek swelled within my ears as I cautiously rushed across the fallen tree bridge above trickling water beneath. A few steps further and I land on the safety of the grassy bank, closer to the center of the symphony. A field larger than my own greets me, thick with wildflowers and thorn bushes nearly my height. The herd of cows which tended this overgrowth never ventured close to this property line, fearful the lush greens were hiding painful stabs from the barbed wire fencing. I wove between the pricker bushes as best I could, but with each step, Mother Nature shifted her breath, and I was momentarily caught as I navigated to my special place. I was six years old.
There is the faintest of breezes here deep in the majesty of soaring trees, unlike the farmer's fields surrounding them. All around this cluster of forest are three sprawling hills, one of golden hay, one of cows out to pasture and the other a homestead hidden from view, where my family of three resides. At their intersection is a brook, which roars more often than it babbles, fed by the smallest of streams and a local reservoir. The rushing water has carved a deep path between these meeting hills, forever dividing and simultaneously connecting them. The water sparkles and splashes as it dances down the stream bed, churning into putrid foam as it becomes trapped in a few small, stagnant pools.
I could hear my name being called in the distance, increasing feverishly to a scream of frustration with each repetition. My ears twanged with every shout, my skin crawled, and my breath quickened. I could feel the sting on my cheek even still, the pounding in my chest as my mind reasoned with my heart that it couldn't possibly break over words. I was running from a rage immune to logic, mightier than a fist and sharper than the boldest of tongues. I was waiting for a manic to simmer in its own fire, burn itself out of crazy and cool once again into kindness and love. I was ten years old.
From the warm kiss of pure sunshine in the open fields to the teasing flickers of light beneath the soaring canopy, the water ceaselessly courses. Like me, it came from the sweet summer air of the open, but not to escape the balmy weather, burning daylight or horrors of home as I did. This is the season of power for the stream before the world begins to cool and transform into a wintery wonderland dominated by ice and suffocating blankets of snow. Then and only then will the water bend to the force of Mother Nature and cease to churn and rumble freely along.
In the fields, the swirling winds, untamed or weakened by the sturdy timberland, selfishly drown out all the sounds of nature. But within the farthest forest which surrounds the hayfield, under the protection of sprawling oaks and pale birches, the wind is stunted into submission. Here, in the coolness of the forest, feeling the damp earth beneath my bare feet, I am immersed in the songs of the birds. With my eyes closed, I tip my head back, hoping to take in as much of their melody as possible. I'm intoxicated with this moment; this feeling of freedom and peace leaves me yearning for more.
The deeper into salvation I walk, the fainter my name becomes. The sounds I am drinking in stifles the calls to return home. Reality awaits me later, but for now, all of my might focuses on a happier home. Maybe when I return, accompanied by the sunset, I will be greeted with homemade pizza and maternal warmth, and she'll want to tell me all the names of the wildflowers I met in the field. I am twelve years old.
My chest expands as I inhale the musty forest air. Hints of honeysuckle caress my nostrils as I push my lungs further to their limits. I hold it in as long as possible, hoping each particle soaks into my very soul. When I can no longer hold in this magic, my heart begins to beat in my head, silencing the symphony which plays around me. I exhale slowly, as though my own breath would disturb the magic of the woodlands
I keep my eyes closed, but take a few more breaths, slowly, to regulate my heartbeat once more. The chirps become louder with each second until once again whistles and snaps take over the forest. I open my eyes and look down at my feet, which are planted upon a bed of decaying pine needles and leaves crumbled into oblivion. Years have turned this forest's fallen debris into damp and soft soil. I wiggle my toes in the dirt, then rock back and forth on my heels. This is my moment.
I could feel the stress melting away in the sun as I crossed the rolling fields in search of this forest. As I entered it, songbirds took care of the rest, leaving me as grounded inside as my feet were on the earth. The weight of everyday life has been pulled off my shoulders and carried away on the notes of the serenade. Despite the cool earth grounding me, I feel as though I could float away into the treetops and dance amongst their highest leaves.
A crash nearby jolts me, shocking my inner thoughts from a place of serenity to panic. As I spin around, my mind races with possibilities, all of which end painfully for me as the outsider in the orchestra. A doe meets my eyes, a mere ten feet away and standing by the creek bed. She stares sideways at me, as startled by the meeting as I am. We are frozen together, focused on one another while the birds sing sweetly, oblivious to or unconcerned about this unplanned meeting. She grinds her lower jaw as if our chance encounter had occurred mid snack.
As my heartbeat once again recedes from my mind, my terror turns to wonder. The corner of my mouth rises reflexively as I begin to appreciate this moment. I cannot move an inch, or I will frighten her away. My feet are now cemented in the ground, and I try to find my center as my body attempts to sway and topple under the pressure of forced stillness. The doe stomps her front foot twice, but never breaks my gaze with her dark, shimmering eyes.
I can feel the vibrations in the earth from her hoof. Her limbs rest on the same soil as mine, only a few arm lengths away. We are connected in that moment, both through the windows of our souls and the rooting of our bases. As one, we hear a woodpecker break the song pattern. As one, we turn to catch a glimpse of the symphony rebel. As one, we enjoy the melodic continuations of the songbirds, unaffected by this one beat betrayal.
Eternity passes before we turn towards one another once again. The doe sniffs the forest breeze, perhaps catching the sweetness I had been blessed with earlier. She snorts a little as she inhales faster and harder, and suddenly loses interest in the scent trail which floats amongst the trees. One more meeting of eyes and she turns to venture deeper into the forest. She never turns to look back, and after a few feet, her footsteps seem to disappear, swallowed up by the usual song.
I shift my attention to the stream, and walk slowly over the dirt, closing in on the rocks of the bed. I step from one shore stone to another, skirting the water's edge and teasing fate. I follow the grey rocked road to a bend. Split by an ancient, fallen oak, a standing pool has formed. Here dance the water bugs, delicately and fiercely, in a ballet I cannot hope to understand. I stare at their tiny legs and littlest impressions in the water which they make. My foot slips a little on the rock, but I catch myself, steadying my balance with outstretched arms and a quick, deep breath as if to lighten myself.
Frightened away by my frantic motions, the water bugs abandon me. I step into the shallow water, with tiny pebbles as my floor. The water rushes over the tops of my toes and attempts to climb my ankles to no avail. I take a deep breath and look down into the water. I once again wiggle my toes, then rock back and forth on my heels, not even making a splash.
My thoughts are interrupted by the changing of the symphony. Once melodic, the calls become chaotic; the purity is spoiled. A great rush of wind penetrates the nearly still forest, weaving and crashing between the trees. The surface of the compact ground swirls as the confused air tries to release itself from the forest's imprisonment. There is nowhere to go but up, but unlike the birds, the wind is trapped and confused.
Howling in its attempt to break free, it takes with it the crumbled leaves of the forest floor and flings them at anything in its path. Small twigs pelt my exposed skin, and as I turn towards the closest hill seeking escape from this blustery fury, it becomes quiet. As quickly as this disturbance began, it stops. The brush settles to the ground, and the ruffling canopy slowly regains its composure. Although physically unharmed, anxiety begins to creep back into my chest, as though the stillness has vacuumed all this world's air away, leaving only the remainder of what's waiting for me back home to fill me. I am seventeen years old.
The forest is silent. No notes are being carried on the breeze; there is no breeze. As I look up, the dancing sunlight peeking through the treetops is frozen in place. Time is immobilized here, and the eeriness of the silence begins to envelop me like all the stress I lost has been heaped upon me in an instant. Just as I feel crushed under the weight of its return, a songbird calls out to me. Then another. A whistle, and then a chirp. Their pace picks up in a majestic crescendo, and once again the forest is filled with their symphony. As the music fills my head and heart, each breath releases the grips of stress, and my worries melt away into the forest breeze, carried away on the song of a bird.
I freeze in this moment as long as the sun allows. I start squinting into the growing shadows, only to realize my limited time of freedom is quickly coming to an end. A few deep breaths to prepare me for my return are also an effort to hold these moments within me, as though this air will protect me from the inside out, should my arrival home be a replication of my departure. I muster the courage, turn, and meander out of the forest.
Time speeds up as I leave the salvation of the symphony, and the hours I spent hidden in the trees with the songbirds fade quickly as I approach home. One moment to cross the hayfield, one-and-a-half to navigate across the creek; a quick game of hopscotch over the stones. Before I know it, I am balancing the log-beam once again, and my home turns from dots and lines of color to details. Having waited for me all that time, I am accompanied on this final stretch across our field by a happily wagging tail and gentle kisses. I see Dad's truck parked in the driveway, and I smell a mixture of laundry and pizza wafting from the house. A quick breeze brings one last crescendo of the songbirds, and the smiling face of my Mother greets me as I walk into our home of uncertain love.