On Looking, listening, and birdsong in the morning

I just finished reading Alexandria Horowitz’s On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation. She describes eleven walks around her block in (mostly) New York City, taken with a wide range of experts: artists, physicians, geologists and dogs.

Highly recommended. You will laugh. You will learn. You will focus. You will expand.

I learned the answer to a question I have had for a long time: why do birds sing in the morning?

It has to do with the air temperature, Horowitz explained. Sound travels more directly in cooler air, and is more diffused in warmer air. Since the air is relatively cool in the morning, we hear birdsong from farther away.

“But,” I said to my husband. “I’m not sure I like that answer.”

We were parked in our car, windows closed against the black flies, air-conditioner running because of our dog in the back seat. Potential buyers were looking at our house, so we had to clear out for an hour. My husband brought a decision from the Supreme Court along to read– it is relevant to a case he has– and I brought On Looking. 

He read to me the salient points of the court’s decision, which included Justice Alito contradicting himself in the same paragraph and notorious RBG (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) slapping him down, as she does so well.

And then I explained what the book said about birds singing more in the morning: they don’t actually sing more in the morning. We just hear it more.

“I think I prefer to believe,” I said, “that they do sing more in the morning. That there is something about the morning that inspires birdsong.”

My husband said, with a laugh, “Typical morning person thinking.”

But physics aside, there is something about birds and morning. Maybe that is just the time when I listen.



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