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Nocturne in green and grey

May 9, 2013

Once upon a time I thought I had something Important to Say to the world. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew that I needed my voice to be heard. Pretty much like every other humanities graduate who ever lived, in other words. 

Recently I have noticed that this need has been fading. Creeping into its place is the urge, not to be heard, but to listen. Listen to the world, as a favourite mug of mine reminds me. Listening is the way to contentment and understanding; to happiness, indeed.

Sometimes happiness can whisper so quietly, though, that you don’t register its voice until afterwards. Today was a day like that. Between the bookends of the school runs, I saw no-one all day. A planned morning coffee with a friend fell through, so instead I busied myself with household chores. At lunchtime, I took the puppy for a brisk walk: the weather was cold, wet and windy, not conducive to lingering and an unpleasant change from yesterday’s one day of glorious warmth and sunshine. Yesterday was the antithesis of today, in fact: twenty degrees (68F) and sunny but also very busy and full of meetings, journeys and faces. 

By contrast, the occasional whine of the dog was the only other voice I heard for most of this afternoon. I even turned off the radio, the better to hear the silence. 

It’s a delicate balance, finding the point where the silence is peaceful rather than tipping into melancholy. Perhaps I might have been at risk of that slide, if it hadn’t been for having to fetch my younger son from school in the mid-afternoon rain. Once he was home, the atmosphere of the day changed completely, the momentum picking up and carrying us through with chatter and  homework, cooking and hugs until bath, story and bedtime and Daddy’s return from work. 

Eight o’clock. Child is tucked up in bed. Before stepping into a hot bath, I pause at the window, looking out at the end of this wet day. The fields, woods, hills recede in subtle shades of green and grey, their outlines softened by drizzle. The two swans on the lochan are the only bright smudges. But look, there is a swallow diving over the dank field – and there is another, higher up, white breast flashing past the window. Soon more than a dozen swallows are flittering like bats in the grey air, higher than I’d have expected, lifting my heart with them. Hidden in the hedge far below, a blackbird burbles its evening song.

An hour later, and the grey-greens outside the window are darkening to cobalt and aquamarine. The swallows have vanished and the swans, barely visible in the dusk, are tucked up on their nest. 

The blackbird is still singing. Listening, I find myself smiling. And I realise that today has been a happy day.



You might enjoy an evening walk from this time three years ago, or a November day of quiet pleasures in Darkness and Light.



20 Comments leave one →
  1. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    May 9, 2013 1:23 am

    bang on!

  2. May 9, 2013 7:23 am

    Yes, there is something about a blackbird singing high up somewhere above you while you are out in the garden … or wherever! Definitely one of the joys of life!

  3. May 9, 2013 8:02 am

    I think you’ve hit on a very important point there, but one that’s very difficult to explain! Even while a blackbird is singing, it has a few seconds of silence every so often to listen to other birds (or possibly to draw breath!) There’s a lesson for us all, in there somewhere.

    • May 9, 2013 11:24 pm

      Oh, I like the observation that even the blackbirds pause for breath. I don’t feel that I have explained myself at all clearly, so I am glad you understood the gist of it all!

  4. May 9, 2013 11:19 am

    Oooh I had shivers down my spine reading this! “My” swallows have returned too much to my delight. And there is something about the blackbird song that pulls at my heart and fills me with joy too.

    And I can empathise with your changing need from wanting to say something to the world/change the world to listening, even in silence…..

    • May 9, 2013 11:32 pm

      Your swallows have further to go than most. Where is the most northerly landfall of swallows, I wonder: do they get as far as Arctic Norway, for example? Bird migrations are so extraordinary.

      Silence becomes increasingly important to me. It’s partly the result of that head injury and only being comfortable listening to one noise at a time; partly a reaction to the hurly-burly of a young family; and perhaps partly just getting older and hopefully a smidgeon wiser! I should think that the inhabitants of Graemsay are very experienced in understanding silence; and also the importance of breaking it sometimes.

  5. Liz Davey permalink
    May 10, 2013 11:37 am

    I love my dog walking in silence. It gives me the opportunity to take things in, especially at this time of year: the flowers, the birds, the trees. I cannot understand people who find it necessary to be plugged into their earphones the whole time. I think they miss out on a lot of life-enhancing experiences.

    • May 10, 2013 12:37 pm

      I do agree. Commuting on the underground, I can see why people would want to plugged in to their own choice of sound; otherwise you are likely to be happier and/or safer if you can hear the ambient noises!

  6. Erika W. permalink
    May 11, 2013 1:06 am

    My husband and I wake up early–around 5:30 a.m. and listen to the dawn chorus going full blast. For years now I recite to myself, on hearing my first bird of the day

    Morning has broken like the first morning.
    Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
    Praise for the morning, praise for the singing.
    Praise for them springing fresh from the word.

    It starts my day clean and willing somehow.

  7. May 11, 2013 11:30 am

    I think this love for, and ability to deal with, silence comes to us with age, as you suggest in your reply to Sian. Nowadays I have stopped listening to the radio almost entirely, except in the car, and much prefer silence or music to accompany my chores. Of course this kind of opportunity is frequent in my life and rare in yours, but I know just what you mean about the centrality of listening.

  8. May 13, 2013 7:40 am

    Every Spring I wait for my heart to be broken anew by the blackbird’s song.

    Silence – if your local library has the DVD of ‘Le Grand Silence’, by Philip Groening, about the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, borrow it and set aside 3 hours to watch it.

  9. May 13, 2013 8:15 pm

    And – do you know the poem ‘A Twilight in Middle March’, by Francis Ledwidge, from The Book of Celtic Verse?

    • May 13, 2013 11:35 pm

      No – thank you again – it describes perfectly the sound of the blackbird.
      I’m with you on the Today Programme. Learning what not to listen to is another lesson in wisdom!

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