It’s late spring in Santa Fe, and that could mean anything – even snow. Just as the first shades of sunrise were hinting at morning, it was calm out. Windless, coyoteless, dogbarkingless, carless, windchimeless calm. It was mild overnight and I’d left the window open. It had been one of those nights where I slept, but 50 or 60 times. On a sleepless night, I don’t dream. On a night of profound sleep I don’t dream. On nights where I sleep 50 or 60 times, I dream. I don’t remember hardly any of it but I know that I like it, and even if I can’t remember the details it’s nice to know I’m dreaming. And it had taken me a while to actually settle down because of the stresses of the day and the disruptive influences of 2 gigs over 3 days. (I sleep horribly after a gig, more so after a gig with a commute. I can’t be forcefully, intentionally awake for an hour of Night Driver on highway 25 and then instantly drift into blissful sleep; it takes a couple of hours to switch modes from Must Not Sleep to Must Sleep.
Anyway, the birds started. There are tons of birds here, even some surprising tropical looking ones from time to time. I feel like there are more birds than when I lived in the lush coniferous rainforesty suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and certainly more than the inner city and surrounding suburbs around New York. It’s one thing to know there are birds here, plenty, and it’s a whole other thing to hear a late spring morning.
It was like the first day ever. Hundreds of birds singing their personal tunes without restraint or fatigue all overlapping and merging into a beautiful, if chaotic, symphony. It’s hard as a human not to impose human motivations over the sounds, especially when we think we know what they’re for – expressing happiness, finding that one mate out of all the other gray desert birds, signalling danger. (It’s weird to find myself making that human vs. animal dichotomy, too. Why couldn’t we have any underlying messages in natural things. Until the very recent past, humans weren’t apart and above nature.) It’s a sound that’s both spiritual and grounded; heavenly and earthly. A little slice of life moment that for all I know had completely to myself.
And then it stops. The birds have an unspoken agreement to start more or less the same time, probably cued by the eternally optimistic robins, and then to fade to almost nothing almost in unison. By the time the sun is up, the wind has started blowing again and the first commuters are speeding their way to work down our little bedroom community’s main road just behind my house each on their phones and slurping coffee from metal commuter mugs and doing 60 or 70 (instead of the marked 45) to minimize the pain of the trip.
The first alarm clock in the house goes off, and part of me knows that I can then allow myself to sleep because there’s maybe only 20 minutes of possibility now. (Heaven forbid I grant myself the same freedom to sleep earlier in the night. I don’t get it, either.) The dogs stir and go outside the first time; once they’re back in they meander uncomfortably between the bed where I’m still laying, my kid’s bed, and my wife’s office where the day is closest to having begun. Every time the chihuahua brings a new toy up onto the bed and props herself against me to get purchase while she’s patiently ripping the seams apart I briefly awake, then drift into shallow dreams for another minute until someone else does something. The coffee grinder. The shower. Barking. The day has begun, I just won’t let myself admit it yet.
There will still be birds chirping and nesting and doing whatever they do throughout the day, but there’s nothing like that first dusky half hour. And again, sometimes I think the only reason my body and mind have beaten me up about sleep for the last two decades is just to have the occasional chance to witness stuff like this.
And you know what? It’s just might be worth it.