“Whenever the sun shines warmly over the earth, the old males tune their pipe, and enliven the neighborhood with their song. By early April, the snows are all melting away, and nature again, in all the beauty of spring, promises happiness and abundance to the whole animal creation. Then it is that the Robin, perched on fence-stake, or the top of some detached tree of the field, gives vent to the warmth of his passion… Everyone knows the Robin and his song.”
John James Audubon
The world is full of wonders. Certain things just call us to stop, and take notice. Like birds singing.
And in spring the song of the birds can reach a kind of fever pitch. There are so many of them giving voice to the warmth of their passion—often all at the same time.
This calls us, indeed we may even say it demands us, to ask ‘why?’ Aristotle observed that the habits of non-rational animals are all connected either with reproduction and the raising of young or the acquiring of nourishment and survival. This might seem a bit disappointing. Is all this beautiful song really such a mundane matter?
But if we look a little closer I think we will find something far from mundane. Perhaps Aristotle’s deepest conviction about that the natural world is that there is always a reason. For everything. And the reasons of things are deeply inter-connected. Trees flower in spring for the sake of their own reproduction. It is no coincidence, however, that their flowering also feeds the bees, and other animals, as it also feeds our souls. At the heart of the purposiveness of nature—called teleology—is that things have reasons, and are good, in more ways than we have realized.
So why is the robin on the fence post singing? What a great question to ask this morning! Clearly something within him calls him to do so, and he, with no real choice in the matter, answers the call.
Human persons have a choice. We do not have to sing this morning. But perhaps the song of the birds is a call to us: a call to realize the even deeper reasons that we have to sing.
I wake in the morning early
And always, the very first thing,
I poke out my head and I sit up in bed
And I sing and I sing and I sing.
Rose Fyleman, ‘Singing Time’
John James Audubon (1785-1851) was a great naturalist known especially for his studies and paintings of birds. He was raised in France but moved as a teen to America, where he would spend many years observing, painting and describing our native birds.
Note: for some helpful links in order to LEARN SOME BIRDSONGS see the end of this post.
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