Out in the open Nebraska countryside in October, clouds of birds are easy to follow. I've been marveling at how big groups come together and fly one way and then another with each member of the flock synchronized with the others. When the birds are starlings – as the groups I see forming near cornfields often are -- these groups are called ‘murmurations’.
This video of some huge murmurations, shot over the River Shannon in Ireland, shows the same sorts of dramatic turns and formations I’ve been marveling at in Nebraska:
Many of us are fascinated by birds. Their behavior, their songs and calls, their colors and forms bring delight and wonder. One of the joys of winter, when there are so few signs of living things in the landscape, are birds that appear at feeders and other protected places. An early flock of robins in a still snowy yard is a delight of early spring.
Last week the Newcastle (Australia) Herald online ran The ocean is broken by Greg Ray. Ray reports on yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen’s journey from Melbourne to Osaka, and then on to San Francisco via Hawai’i. MacFayden said that when he had sailed from Melbourne to Osaka ten years earlier, he and his crew caught a good-sized fish each of the 28 days of the journey; this year, they caught only two the entire time. But what struck me most was this:
No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.
"In years gone by I'd gotten used to all the birds and their noises," he said.
"They'd be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You'd see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards."
But in March and April this year, only silence and desolation surrounded his boat, Funnel Web, as it sped across the surface of a haunted ocean.
No birds, only “silence and desolation”. The “brokenness” of the ocean described in this article is from a combination of overfishing, plastic pollution and other debris, and the effects of climate change. The silence is ominous, a sign not only of the damage done to the oceans but of the damage being done to our entire biosphere.
The absence of “all the birds and their noises” reminded me of “And no bird sang”, something the choir at St. Stephen’s in Grand Island has sung several times for Holy Week services.
The belief that faith communities can bring an authentic voice of hope into discussions about the environment is something I've affirmed in this blog several times. Our voice of hope is authentic because it is the sort of hope that acknowledges the reality of desolation and despair. It is a hope that rests not on denial but on a willingness to be present and aware in deep ways. It is not a hope that says “Everything will be okay” when it won’t be, but a hope that we can find meaning and humanity and experience the love of Christ even when our hearts are broken because the birds are disappearing. It’s a hope that knows that new life can come from death. And it’s the sort of hope that will keep us doing our best for the birds, ourselves, and all living things no matter how dire things look.