Thursday, April 16, 2015
This is the tale, as the magpies tell it.
When the sun rose on the last day, He Who Notes the Sparrow’s Fall wished for music.
There were many willing to sing.
The meadowlarks sang in round, their tunes braiding the air with the thistles, the soil with the sky.
The hawks and eagles sang, their shrieks and burbles like water tumbling over sharp rocks in a mountain stream.
Came too the telephone birds, the killdeer, the yoo-hoo birds. Each group sang and He Who Notes the Sparrow’s Fall closed his eyes to listen to each song, sighing, smiling, never singing along though he knew the tunes by heart because he wanted to hear the others sing.
Then she came.
She, his sister. Where she walked the marigolds sprouted and when she sang tulips sprang from the ground, drawn in the same electric frisson that caused feathers and fur to stand on end. And when she sang, the song was so beautiful the stars drew closer to hear and he sang along, never overshadowing her voice but always in tune, swaying willow branches to match the cottonwood fluff floating over the water.
Many, more shy, more modest, listened form holes, form branches, from deep within or from bare perches where they could feel the sunlight and the music and the breeze.
From them, too, he coaxed songs, laughing as a school of fish spat bubbles out of the water, pattering patterns to imitate the fall of rain, the splash of raccoons fishing, the tumble of fall leaves on still water. He listened solemnly as a family of skunks chanted their song of root and earth.
“Each,” you see, “has a song. And each song deserves to be heard.”
“But which is more beautiful,” his sister asked.
He frowned slightly. “I cannot esteem one over the other. All are equal in my ears.”
“Surely, brother, there must be one here whose voice you cherish above others,” she said.
“No,” he said. “Not one.”
The sunlight flickered on her face, as if briefly eclipsed.
“But I have not heard all,” he said. He glanced at his sister, pulled a strand of hair away from her face. Where the shadow persisted.
“Not jealous?” he asked, smiling at her. “Not jealous, one who sings so fair?”
“No,” she said shortly, looking away from his smiling face. “We have been told there is no room for jealousy.” She smiled, but the shadow still clouded her face. “Only joy.”
“Some know its opposite,” He said.
Again he called for song, and many who had sung before and many whose voices had been still joined. And she sang again and when she sang the shadow left her face and all once again felt the warmth of the sun and smelt the flowers and the grass and the soil and the fur and feathers and laughter.
Then the magpies came.
Those with keener ears first heard their voices, high, low, reedy and rounded. As they heard they ceased their own songs, for to hear magpies in chorus is to feel the sun on the skin and have its warmth while the cold snow bites and the fresh rain falls into puddles and streams for swimming where the weeds tickle and the sunlight sparkles and the twigs bounce and the leaves and flowers follow the light and the water flows over the rocks like caressing hands.
Those with keener eyes saw them: Broad, square wings with feathers the colors of sunrise and sky and sunset over the deepest forest.
They lighted on a bare branch thrust out of a leaning cottonwood one by one and, as the branch swayed under their weight, they sang. They sang and the sun and clouds marched overhead to a purple twilight where even the crickets chirped silently so as not to drown out the magpies’ song.
He Who Notes the Sparrow’s Fall lay in the bole of a twisted willow root, hands behind his head, eyes closed, listening.
The magpies finished their song and bowed their heads to the man in the willow roots.
“Almost,” he said idly, eyes still closed as the crickets slowly took it upon themselves to fill the night, “Almost could I say these are my favorites.”