BIRD BY BIRD
Pajaro a Pajaro conoci la tierra. Pablo Neruda
D’esprit du monde, c’est nous, des que nous savons nous mouvoir. Maurice Merleau-Ponty
The other Saturday as I cycled home from work through the eastern end of Pole Mokotowskie I was startled by the sound of the sky above me. It was 5pm on the last day of November and already it was dark, though not black enough for me to be completely blind to what was going on above.
I stopped where the main road of Niepodleglosci divides the eastern end from the western end of the park.
It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the almost black evening sky, but then I saw them, the scattered shoal of black wings and bodies against the dark dark blue. The whole field of my vision became full with this image of jackdaws and rooks winging across the sky. I realised there had to be hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands. It was hard to tell. Their sounds alone were enough to drown out the expressway traffic along the main thoroughfare of Aleje Niepodleglosci, (Independence Avenue). Up there, was another independence avenue, a wind tunnel over Warsaw rendering the sky spoken. Such was the sight (and sound) that I was genuinely surprised that the cars did not stop and their drivers get out to see what the kerfuffle was all about, but of course they were oblivious to it all sealed away behind their wind-screens and combustible engines.
When I arrived in Warsaw two years ago I barely knew what a bird was. I can recall walking along Marszalkowska towards the centre at about the same twilight time and hearing this tchaking raucous above me. I was literally awestruck by the great flying carpet of black wings heading towards the beacon of the Palace of Culture. As I stood there mesmerised wondering if this was some kind of avian invasion I realised by other people’s casual indifference that it was perhaps not an uncommon affair. How can you not attend to such an event I thought. Even two years on, especially two years on, the event is even more mesmerising. What little I've learned of corvids along the way has further fuelled my curiosity. And I still think, how can people not attend to this event?
In fact, these crepuscular fly-bys are relatively new over Warsaw, and have only been witnessed like this for the past ten years. Before that the skies above the city were sadly absent of such seething shoals of jackdaws, and crows. Various speculations have been made as to the reason, but none are as of yet conclusive.
As I stood frozen to the spot, my bicycle's blue titanium frame now betwixt my legs, my whole soul saluted these birds, commended their energy, their sacred right of migration, and of movement. At times I have even convinced myself, whether through flight of imagination or of movement, that I am part-bird. These birds have taught me much about motion, about 'the why of movement', and of the world. In these cold winter mornings when I jog down through the Russian cemetery (my pockets full of seed and breadcrumbs) I become the roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) who starts the day running not in some vain enterprise to entertain passers-by (though my hirsute Scottish legs have been known to raise an eye) but to jump-start his central heating system, oxygenate his blood supply and prepare himself for a day of action. I am fearful of cars, of ‘automobiles’ that seek not only to usurp my own auto-mobility but to gradually destroy the air I breathe, and the space I move through.
I envy these birds that their space has not been so congested by traffic. I envy them for their purity of being, for their lack of progress, for their hesitation of the human. I envy their wild erratic flight patterns, their ability to home, as a verb, and not as noun. I envy them for their wings that carry them up on the thermals, that allow them to soar and sweep, and call out, and provoke the odd thought in my collapsible body. In my own wanderings, of mind, and of leg, I am part bird.
I travail as much as I travel, and when you watch the bird, when it becomes so ingrained into you, you see this work, this travail, this travelling as one and the same thing. These wind tunnels over Warsaw are a high-way of a wholly different sort, ones of which most are blissfully unaware. These thousands of jackdaws and rooks home into their patches in Pole Mokotowskie, in the pine trees of the Russian Cemetery, over the river into Park Skaryszewski, like shoals of fish swimming chemically through the sea. The sky of course is another kind of sea, an ocean whose movements for the most part we are fortunately privy to. Never before, in all my various migrations, had the sky taken on such meaning, such movement. On the Great European Plain, Warsaw stands as an elemental crossroads of land and of weather, of river, cloud and bird. Whether it be those travelling north to south, or east to west, Warsaw gets it all at some point. Just don’t take your eyes off the skies. It is such that Warsaw becomes the world without even moving.