Tuesday, March 22, 2011

oldies: The 4 am bird

May 8, 2010

There is a bird who cries outside of my window on DeWolfe Street every evening – or every morning – at 4 am sharp. Perhaps it also chirps at later times of the day, along with the other cackling birds, or perhaps he goes to sleep or goes out for food and entertainment during the day. Either way, he only comes to my attention at this particular time, and it could certainly be my human ignorance of the subtleties of bird speech, but I am fairly certain that it is the same bird I hear every night. Every night, at 4 am, when my lights are out and my computer is off and I am lying in my bed, eyes closed and facing this way or the other with my blankets haphazardly wrapped around the bare parts of my body and my arms locked around my pillow, I hear this bird. Every night as I try to think the most banal or comforting or blankest of thoughts in the hopes of lulling myself to sleep, shutting out the songs which play on repeat or the rehearsed conversations or the bits of movie scenes or the grocery lists which cycle through my weary mind, as I open my eyes to see the orange light buzzing beneath my curtain and the various LED lights which bedazzle my room, hearing the white noise of the rare taxi cab driving by or group of college students stumbling home, this bird continues his monologue, wherever he is. His clear voice is my only company this time of night, especially during this time of year when students go to bed early or stay inside to study, and I am his only audience.
But his song doesn't strike me as a performance. Surely he's not trying to woo a coy female, who I might hear twittering in response to his powerful alto whistle – alto in bird-terms, I would think. What could he possibly have to say, to communicate, at this time of night, when I can hear none of his companions cry in response? When no humans are around to intimidate him on the sidewalk, or drop bits of food for his pleasure and their amusement? Perhaps he is in the same position I am, the only nocturnal bird on his block – or at least his other nocturnal friends are enjoying their own insomniac shame in isolation, as is fit. Perhaps he is too stimulated by the nighttime world: the neon lights, buzzing street lamps, bitter cold wind and stars and murky clouds in the sky and the strange apocalyptic overtones of the barely-empty, damp streets of Cambridge. Worms are coming out to enjoy the evening moisture; surely there is no competition at this hour, if his solitude is any indication. I imagine all sorts of bird fodder come out to roam their turf above ground at this hour of night, and that can't possibly be easy for a hungry insomniac bird to ignore. Perhaps, like myself, he gets the early worms before the morning early worms come about, missing the dining hall's breakfast hours, because he then proceeds to sleep in through the morning and early afternoon after his exhaustingly thoughtful night. These thoughts and sensations must be coursing through his little bird's brain with as much vigor and insistence as my own racing thoughts about my life, my worth, my duties, and the world at large. But since birds lack the luxury of an internal dialogue – so I presume – this bird of the night sings out his racing bird-thoughts to the empty streets and cantankerous evening taxi cabs, while his apathetic bird-audience are snug in their nests like normal birds and await the dawn to get up and discuss the weather. Though he has no one to share his observations on the dewy grass by the river, the ominous chill of the wind, or the questionable integrity of the branch he is perched upon, still he is plagued by them and cannot help but utter them aloud, echoing against my building to his unintended yet intent audience who sadly cannot understand his sentiments. And were I a bird or sufficiently deranged with furious insomnia, I would gladly answer his calls with my own rushing thoughts, though not as clarion-clear as his own, telling him perhaps about the conversation I plan to have with my mother at some undetermined time, or the various facts about the Hellenistic diadochoi that I must, must remember for my exam tomorrow afternoon. Of course, he would understand me no better than I him, and would likely not even notice that I was talking to him at all, as he has more interesting things to think and sing about than a random, inelegant human voice echoing through DeWolfe Street. But maybe, if he gets any solace from doing it himself, if I spoke out my racing, banal and often pernicious insomniac thoughts to the empty streets at night at 4 am just as he does, I would be able to relax and move on easier, and finally attain sleep.
Tonight he sang for about half an hour and I haven't heard his distinctive voice in a good five minutes; he is usually quite talkative. This is probably how long he sings every night, after which he proceeds to – what? Sleep, go out to do his morning rituals, muse more quietly to himself or perhaps rouse a friend to share the morning with? Perhaps there is an agenda here, in which my friend will chirp at 4 am on the nose for a short period, and then move on to the rest of his day, whereas my 4 am musings are, though rather predictably frequent, ultimately something I try to avoid and do not fit into a planned course of action. And maybe his song is not simply the chanting of racing thoughts that I experience, but a routine melody which signals something to others, or to himself, which is once again simply a part of his daily doings – and I have, in my sleep-deprived, frustrated romanticism, projected my perplexing insomniac experiences on a banal coincidence to anthropomorphize a creature with no real connection or similarity to my 20 year old human student self...I loathe people who do that sort of silly thing. But be that as it may, I am still both comforted at the unexpectedly reliable company at this odd hour and immensely frustrated that I find myself in his presence at this time so very often, and that I am unable to shut out his voice in my attempts to clear my mind and drift off to sleep. I would mention it at some point to him perhaps, but I think it is well established by this point that there is no use in me trying to relate to a bird outside my window at 4 am in the morning.

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