There's a Reason Birds Sing

I pondered recently why it is that I love birds so much. Apart from the obvious (wings, beaks, flying), why are birds different to other animals? I mean, I love seeing foxes and frogs and other creatures, but to me, birds are something else. They inspire me, occasionally stop me dead in my tracks, and cause me to mull over the universe and all manner of big issues. I’m excited when I see certain birds, as they bring about a feeling of privilege in me, like I’m privy to witnessing a natural wonder.

When I was little, I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club and, as a group, we would wander around the school grounds with our teacher spotting nuthatches and woodpeckers, yellow wagtails and jays, learning about their individual calls and markings. That early interest and love has never waned.

There is a reason why I’m writing, by the way, about birds on a blog concerning sobriety. I was on a long train journey last week, from Sheffield to Edinburgh. The route takes the train up through the inner city sprawls of York and Newcastle, and via the coast-lined Alnmouth and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. All along the line, the surrounding physical landscape changes dramatically, flashing up colossal cooling towers and power stations, beaches, the rolling ocean, rows of terraced houses neatly positioned like children’s Lego, big farmhouses overseeing acres of lush green fields dotted with sheep, or barren fields not yet exhibiting their summer crops. 

And, no matter what veiled the given environment below, all along was a parade of different birds, soaring above the ground, passing the baton on from one to the next: a gaggle of geese over the murky urban fog of the outer reaches of Newcastle, a solitary kestrel hovering over the farmers’ fields of Alnmouth; herring gulls blown about chaotically high over the North Sea; a murmuration of starlings silhouetted against a morning Edinburgh skyline (don’t you just love collective nouns for birds?).

Birds are exempt from modern life in a way that we could never be. They do their own thing, separate from the clutter and tumult of the human world. Birds are beautifully above it all, untouched by the infrastructure of modern society. They are free; they have a life of their own.

It is these qualities that brought to my mind the connection between birds and sobriety; it lies in the way that birds continue to fly majestically with grace and purpose, despite whatever it is that’s happening beneath them.

Just like being sober. When you are alcohol-free and it’s secured inside you, when it’s become a part of who you are and you’re no longer wavering atop that precarious fence, wondering whether or not to make the leap… When not drinking is absolutely a choice you know you’re sticking with, it is like a bird.

It glides effortlessly over the chaos, is not affected by whatever pandemonium is being played out on the ground, and takes on a life of its own – it becomes self-contained and untouched by external influences.

In this sirenic and exquisite way, birds, to me, represent all that it is to be sober.