The Song of Contentment, the Secret Song of the Whip-poor-will
July 28, 2013
When the morning gauze ripples in the wake of the fleeing night, there is the soft leathery warble of the first whip-poor-will.
It is a song of quiet proclamation.
“Here is the dawn. Here am I.”
This elusive and shy harbinger of first light sings his melodic and chromatic melody in almost a gray whisper. The bird is in the deepest recesses of the Ozarks woods and I listen for that voice every morning.
The small bird is invisible to me as it perches on the branch of a cedar tree or in the solemn folds of oak leaves. Sure enough, the dawn breaks over the bluffs and hills of this verdant Eden, and there is an answering call from another whip-poor-will farther away, much deeper in the woods.
Sometimes I see the shadow of this secretive bird as it flits from one branch to another. There is just the barest glimpse of movement and then it calls again as if saying, “You cannot find me. You cannot see me.”
I did see a whip-poor-will once, though. It fluttered to the ground and hunched there as it sought what must have been a worm or a dozing insect. Its feathers were a mottled grey, almost neutral in hue, and the bird blended into the earth and surrounding brush as if certain of its camouflage.
Once the sun rises above the horizon and butters the hills and valleys, creeps into the hollows and ravines of the green hills, the whip-poor-will becomes suddenly silent and is heard no more throughout the day.
Then, at dusk, just after the sun has painted the clouds above its sinking medallion, the bird announces the approach of nightfall in those same dulcet tones that seem to bubble from its throat in dancing syllables. It is a lovely, reassuring phrase that seems to say: “I am here again. I bring on the night with my little song.”
And, there, again, from far away, another bird intones a similar announcement that, indeed, night is drifting into the hills with its long shadows that darken as the sky grows pale and the glow in the sky fades to a pastel blue before turning a velvet ebony.
The first star, the star of evening, Venus, winks on as it sails into the royal realm of constellations, galaxies and orbiting planets. The whip-poor-will continues its melodious refrains and flits from branch to branch, a shadow in the stillness, a wistful tone to its rippling refrain.
The bird becomes a shadow within a shadow and is invisible to the naked eye, the questioning glance, the searching vision of the onlooker, the intruder on the bird’s nocturnal domain.
The Milky Way strews diamonds across the sky and distant suns flash silver and barely glimpsed spectrums. The birds sing on, in sporadic interpolations, their voices fading as they drag their shadows deeper into the woods.
It is time to sleep and I leave the outdoors with a feeling of deep contentment.
I have been in Eden.
I am at peace with the universe.
The solitary whip-poor-will drifts into my dreams when I close my eyes and slowly sink into the ocean of sleep.
“Good night sweet little bird. I will not see you in the morning, but I will hear you once again.”
And, so it is, in these Ozarks hills, when day fades into night and night melts into day.