One of my favorite parts of fall is watching the flocks of starlings that move like synchronized swimmers in the sky. It always catches my eye and I sit and wonder, “How do they know what to do next and who is the boss?”
A couple weeks ago, while driving to Toronto with my husband to see Bono, our very favorite singer ever for his book tour, Dave noticed this phenomenon while I tried reading as much of Bono’s book as I could in the car. Full disclosure, I am the bird nerd, not Dave. Maybe I am rubbing off on him, or maybe it is just so cool to watch this happen that even non bird nerds are mesmerized by this phenomenon.
Since I was not driving and have trouble paying attention to things like books for very long, I decided to ask Google what is up with the bird dance.
Here is what I found out:
The European Staring is the only bird to do this
It is called a murmuration
It happens mostly in fall and winter and these birds head off to roost (that is a fancy word for sleeping)
They are trying to stay warm by being together
They are also trying to limit vulnerability to predators
There is no boss of the murmuration
They work with the 6-7 birds that are closest to them and follow along
This does not answer all my questions - like do they have appointments for this, or does a small group just decide to start flying; how is no one bird in charge? It did however provide me with a whole lot of respect for these birds who in the spring, are a royal pain at the feeders in my yard. My intuition tells me it is pure instinct for these birds, and that there is probably some internal clock they all follow that tips them off as to when to start flying.
While driving the other day, I was at a red light and watched a murmuration up close. They seemed a little scattered that day, but still they made it look good. The movement, the synchronization, the shapes it makes as it moves in the sky, it is just sheer magic.
A few days after that, the community I live in got over 6 feet of snow in less than 2 days. We went from green grass to three feet of snow overnight, and then it just kept coming,
Today it finally stopped long enough for us to get ahead of the snow. We worked as our own little murmuration, each with our own role and we made excellent progress against the frozen tundra that was our driveway. The snow was deep and dense enough that it had the blue cast to it usually reserved for glaciers and icebergs.
As I moved through this activity, I was taken by the suddenness of the snow, the symbolism of the frozen terrain we found ourselves in and the method in which we removed it. Interpreting my dreams and the dreams of others is a favorite of mine and I know from countless dreams, and from my astrology studies, that water is always symbolic of emotions. Snow in dreams represents old, long ignored emotions. The snow is frozen emotion, where we can get stuck, and it sometimes seems impossible to move. You know what is hard to move? A whole lot of snow and a whole lot of frozen old emotions. Unless you have a plan to work through it, or people to help you, or both it most likely goes unaddressed.
I was full of gratitude for my people and this little process we worked through today. The amount of snow we moved today was beyond anything I could have done on my own.
And then, just as we were at the apron of the driveway, maybe 90% of the way there, a man with a high lift showed up and cleared the end for us. It was very much like when Michael Landon appeared on the horizon in that 1980’s TV show, “Highway to Heaven.” I was awe struck. I don’t know who he was, or who was paying him to be there. We all just stood and watched, full of gratitude. We even tried to pay him, tip him, whatever and he refused. I suspect this was the goodwill of one of our neighbors, and if you’re reading this neighbor, thank you very much. You made our whole day, if not our whole month!
It got me back to thinking about the birds and their murmuration. The elegant, magnificent dance, with no leader, built in love, for comfort and protection. The instinct of these birds that is aligned with the greatest good of their flock. Are we all that different? Sure, our moves aren’t as elegant as all that. And yes, we need each other whether we like it or not. Are we following the lead of the 6-7 people closest to us? Maybe, or not. What I do know is that when life brings you to your knees, if you look a little farther, generally you can find love in some way shape or form if you know what to look for.
Once we were done, I tromped through yet one more snow drift to feed the birds and then made myself some tea. I went on Instagram and immediately saw videos and pictures of local people who were helped by their neighbors, and even of Buffalo Bills fans who went to the houses of Bills players to dig them out to make sure they made it to the airport for the game tomorrow. My grinch heart grew three sizes this day for sure.
We have so much division in the world these days, but I think down deep, we all just want to do what is right and help people when we can. When I can leave my neighborhood again, I will most definitely be paying the kindness I received today forward in some way. Maybe you want to join me? We can consider it part of our murmuration; our instinct to protect each other, to stay warm and to go with the flow rather than against it.