There is a house I walk past sometimes where a flock of birds lives. I can hear them chattering cacophonously into the night. They must not have realized that it’s winter and below freezing and the sun never rises above the horizon; or else their avian conference is just too important to break off simply because of natural instinct and the threat of death by hypothermia. I don’t know what they’re debating, but it sounds extremely urgent, and opinions are widely variable. One voice will rise out of the general roar, although that isn’t right, birdsong is too meek to roar, but anyway the voice will be drowned out by fifteen others before it gets started even on the second stanza. Last fall the birds were on one side of the road and now they have migrated to the other. I doubt they actually live in a house, they must simply be hanging around the vicinity; plausibly, there are thickets of trees on both sides of the road; and who would house a chorus of birds?
But I’ve never seen a single bird around, and the first time I heard it, the noise sounded otherworldly; it reminded me of the time my bathroom was haunted: I would sit there doing my business and hear a spectral voice whisper distorted secrets into my ear. Actually, I realized after a few weeks, it was the landlord’s wife practicing opera in the room directly above my bathroom, and she could use the practice. I didn’t realize at first—I had to hear it several times before I understood what it was, and that is what it’s like with the birds. At first I might have mistaken them for the sounds of alien machinery, possibly the surface scratchings of unknown metals in an alchemist’s engine. It really is eerie.
I imagine if I recorded the sound it would sound exactly like a pet store, which would fail completely to convey their bizarre ambience. But then again, it is rather odd to encounter the soundscape of a pet store just floating around the periphery of a suburban home. Mostly the only birdsong you’ll hear in winter is the hoarse cry of the crow, which might as well be called the croak or the cough. But this sounds like a walk in the forest on a spring morning, or like a flock of tropical pet birds in cages. I have concluded that a bird whisperer must live nearby, and if I ever acquire a hunting falcon I now know whom to turn to for advice.
If my life were a novel, this scene would maybe be foreshadowing schizophrenia, or possibly the start of the novel, which is told in retrospective melancholia occasioned by a particular sensation, like Murakami’s Norwegian Wood starts when the protagonist hears that Beatles song and recalls his college days, or like that goddamn madeleine but I’ve never read Proust so I wouldn’t know, really.Jan 19, 2013