Every now and then, there’s a visual that just blows audio out of the water. And with Emergence on the airwaves this week, this one in particular is on my mind.
It’s a video of starlings, hundreds of them, flying as one. An event which happens to be called a murmuration.
Maybe you’ve seen this video before. It’s been making the rounds. I’m trying to put my finger on what makes it so wonderful. Is it the birds’ changeability? How they appear first like a gnat cloud, then a blanket, then a sea anemone opening and closing in the sky? Is it the music? How close they fly to the camera?
I think it’s what happens at moment 01:45. When the girl (Sophie Windsor Clive) basically drops her paddle and stares at the camera wordlessly.
That giddy look of disbelief is an event that’s perhaps even harder to capture than the murmuration itself: human awe. The real stuff. Quick and simple. It’s that feeling that nature writing so often butchers by over-inflating the wonder, gilding it with too many adjectives. In desperately trying to recreate that rush, that swell through the body, it's easy for a writer to destroy it. And here. Well. In this video, we get Sophie's goofy stare. A snort of laughter.
And there it is.
Heh, heh. BUT.
The longer I sit with it, the more I find myself wondering… why the laugh? Is there some reason that birds unfolding through the sky undams a rush in so many of us? Is it pure hypnotic joy? The thrill of being overwhelmed numerically? The strangeness of watching a well-choreographed event that you know isn’t choreographed?
In some ways, I know this question is unanswerable. That it's different for everyone and blah blah blah.* But... I came across a document recently that offers a pretty compelling explanation. It's a poem called “Starlings in Winter” by Mary Oliver.
I didn't use to like poetry. But moments like the hard edge of grief in this particular poem make me start to. Oliver is somehow able to put words to that swell -- from the Ah on high to the boots down low -- and I don’t know quite how she does it, but I leave her poem having experienced a rush in miniature, that same kind that happens in nature, that can remind even the most empty shell it has within it a capacity for joy.
*The filmmakers-- Sophie and Liberty -- think that look of awe at the end has a lot to do with the video's success (as well as the birds' kindly invitation to let the women be a part of their rolling flighted fun that day). They watched the video skyrocket from 400 views to over a million in 2 days, and then experienced a flood of emails from complete strangers. To their surprise, a large portion of those emails, in addition to sharing stories of their own experiences being moved in nature, extended invitations to the women to come stay with them. Sophie and Liberty are now thinking they'll do it: visit these people on a "mega road trip of discovery" to see what it is that really binds people together, in a feature film documentary called, "Come Stay with Me."
Lulu makes radio, pie, and stories in the hills of Charlottesville, VA. She first heard Radiolab when she was working as a woodworker's assistant in Brooklyn. And that changed everything. She thinks it is Miracle Gro for the mind and hopes to be making the stuff till she is blue in the hair. You can read and listen to her stories at LuTimesTwo.com.