Pondering, Photographing, and Writing about Wild Places

Walking Alone – Singing for No One

Alone, I scan the dim, mossy woods. It is early evening at the beaver pond, a time when anything could be stirring. At the far edge of the narrow flood, in the shadow of a dark brown log, something moves. Then, with a voice delicate as a whisper… it sings.

A song so softly sung that thirty feet away it barely tickles my eardrum, as if the singer doesn’t even want anyone to hear.

When he steps into a sunbeam that somehow found itself lost in the rainforest, the coppery tips of his feathers give him the look of a carefully coifed model. No feather is out of place or in need of preening. Everything about his appearance is perfect, right down to his electric yellow eye—a glint of sun mirrored in the black water. A rusty blackbird.DSC_4395.jpgSometimes he goes a few minutes without a word, then without missing a step or changing his rhythm, he opens his beak the slightest crack, and he sings. Two or three susurrated notes, gently escaping, seeping into in the dark as if directly into a lover’s ear.

As he sings, he casually probes the shallows, flipping waterlogged bark, pulling out larva of one kind or another from the tannin rich water. He never seems to work too fast or too hard. Steady and efficient, his meals come frequently.

For two hours, neither of us moves more than thirty feet from where we met. Up the shore and back down, left then right, south then north, back and forth, back and forth. Warblers come and go. A raven calls. Sapsuckers rap and shout. A stiff wind creaks and bends the tallest trees. At least, I suppose all those things happened. I haven’t noticed anything but him.

I am mesmerized by his song that is clearly not trying to attract a mate or communicate with another. He sings to the smallest possible audience: himself alone.

There is no indication that he even notices me standing here quietly, watching, listening. If I move closer, he does not move away. If I climb awkwardly over a fallen tree, or my boot sinks into the peat and suctions noisily back out, or I trip through a lowbush blueberry tangle, he does not pause to look, or show any alarm.

He just nonchalantly hunts his supper. And when he is moved, he opens his beak a crack, and softly sings. To himself.

When he slips out of sight behind a log or a serration in the contour of the marge, I wait. Sometimes his song wafts gently from the dark, other times he remains silent until he reemerges.

When unseen squirrels bark an alarm that is then mimicked by a jay, he pays no heed. When a mallard wings noisily through a gap in the forest, and splashes into the pond between us, he doesn’t look. His insouciant non-response to it all is to pull a caddisfly larva from the water, shake it free from its leafy case, and swallow it.

Eventually, without any notice, he takes off, flies over the dam at the south end of the pond and lands on a spruce limb where he carefully preens his already nonpareil tail feathers.

Intent on staying with him, I walk the mossy path towards the dam. As I near, he opens his mouth just the slightest crack, and he sings. Two or three susurrated notes, pouring like a liquid whisper in the dark…

I pass behind a large spruce, then look up to see an empty branch.

On the plank trail, I walk left then right, back and forth, back and forth. Seeing no blackbird, hearing no sweet soft song for no one, I turn around and walk back through the woods. Along the way, I open my mouth the slightest crack and softly sing a song I don’t need anyone else to hear.DSC_4557.jpg

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