I was out in the woods during yesterday’s solar eclipse. Rather than having my attention on the sun, I was mostly considering the light, and the way it changed. From the beginning of the eclipse, the light shift was noticeable, a very different kind of light to the effect you get when clouds come between us and the sun. But then, light passes through cloud.
In the woods, all the small birds were singing, and as the sky darkened, the singing grew louder and more intense. Then, as the light returned, the singing eased off again until we had the normal soundscape for that wood. I walk there regularly, I know what it otherwise sounds like at this time of year. I also know that the birds do not sing out like that when dark clouds cover the sun. They have songs- the blackbirds especially – for when they think it’s going to rain and for when the weather improves, but again that was distinctly different from what happened yesterday. Only the blackbirds sing the sun down, and they don’t do so much of that in the winter.
I met several dog walkers in the wood who remembered that, at the last eclipse, the birds had also sung, but stories shared online included tales of places where the birds went quiet in response to the eclipse.
Solar eclipses are far enough apart that there must be many generations of small birds between one and the next. For me it raised all kinds of interesting thoughts about how other life forms experience and understand things. Every day, the birds sing the sun up. In winter, is can be a bit of a token gesture, just a few voices and very brief, but someone will sing. During the summer, it’s a more involved and exuberant process. We humans have traditions of singing and dancing the sun up at key points of the year. Are we doing something similar? Might the same urge underpin both, or might we have learned to do this from the birds?
And because it appeals to my sense of the mythic, let me also offer you the irrational possibility that perhaps the return of the light does depend on the bird song. Perhaps if they stop singing, the whole thing falls apart.