One spring morning when I was young, I awoke very early. It was barely light. I wasn’t accustomed to being awake at that time of day, so it took me a moment to realize what I was hearing. There was an almost deafening sound. It was the sound of myriad birds, all chirping at random, all singing their morning songs.
I had never heard anything like it.
But then, I had never been awake at that time of the day, at that time of the year before.
Closer listening revealed that there was a sort of order to the sound. My first impression of randomness and disorder was the result of its magnitude, not of its being actually random or disorderly. Concentrating intently, I could hear the call of one robin. It was the call that my grandmother always described as “calling for rain”. The minute one call was completed – there was an order to the notes – another would take it up. Then another would join the symphony and then another, and another; there seemed to be no end to the number of them.
It was a sound that I was to remember every now and then for the rest of my life.
I could re-create it in my head whenever I remembered it. And that re-creation always was accompanied by a disbelief that anything that loud could be the result of the gray and black and red-breasted residents of the neighborhood lawns, trees and roof tops; that anything that loud could have ever actually existed; that anything that loud could be anything but the exaggerated memory of a young boy awake before his wont and subject to flights of fancy.
But I could always make it happen again in my head.
I could even hear the different birds.
I made it happen on the morning that I wrote about this memory.
It was one spring morning when I was no longer young.
It was still dark.
I lay motionless hoping to go back to sleep soon. I was listening – perhaps unconsciously - but listening.
I was listening with hope that this would be that morning of all mornings when I finally heard the roar of the birds again.
I realized that I had slipped back to sleep when I was brought abruptly awake by the “pop” of some component of the house. The house liked to express itself during the early morning hours with intermittent popping noises. Sometimes they were single; sometimes they were multiple. But they never seemed to happen except at that time of the dawn when I had come awake briefly and had, just as briefly, dropped back to sleep. They seemed intended to keep me, once awake, awake for the day. The house seemed to want me to be up and about, turning on lights, making coffee and doing other house friendly things.
I always resisted, indulging instead in multiple episodes of dropping back to sleep.
Ultimately the house always tired of the game and lapsed back into silence. And I got a few more hours of sleep.
But the morning that I wrote these words the house was more tenacious than usual. We had been playing the dropping and popping game for some time when one of the pops just preceded a different sound.
Light was beginning to come through the closed blinds, casting little shafts through their downward turned slats, slightly illuminating the top of the dresser.
Those shafts told me that dawn was coming.
The different sound was the morning song of a single robin.
I waited to hear a second.
After a little time I heard it.
I waited for a third, hoping to then hear a fourth, fifth and so on up to the myriad driven roar of childhood memory.
I almost stopped breathing, waiting for the crescendo of the morning song roar to exist in fact, not just in my head.
But I never heard the third.
I listened to the back and forth of the duet and wondered what had happened to me, besides getting older, that had caused me to no longer hear in reality the sound that I could create in my head, that I could remember, that I loved and wished to hear again in reality.
And I knew it wasn’t me.
I knew it because as age had caused dawn awakenings to be the norm in my life I had listened in vain for the spring chorus on countless other early dawns.
I always had to be content with a duet or occasionally a trio.
I had to acknowledge that the flocks that had once spent the early instants of dawn shouting their joy at its arrival had passed from the earth.
They were life that had faded to death.