It's beginning to cloud over early these days. Our square is still lovely.
On the banks of My Silver River Feale
A Listowel Phenomenon?
Is this water pipe gushing water on to the street unique to Listowel? I've never seen in any other town.
Last week's pictures of starlings cavorting around St. John's prompted Cyril Kelly to share with us an essay he wrote on the subject of these fascinating birds.
STARLINGS Cyril Kelly
At first I was unsure what they were, spectral shapes, drifting like wisps of smoke above the distant hedges, amorphous against the evening sky. So intrigued was I, that I veered the car onto the hard shoulder and switched off the engine. In the short time it took to do that, the smoky haze had given way to mesmerising high definition; starlings, a murmuration of starlings, a phenomenon which I had once glimpsed many years before above the night trees on the piazza outside Termini railway station in Rome, a phenomenon which I had often recalled but had never witnessed since.
This mottled wheel, forty ... fifty metres high, fifty metres wide, an enormous whirling wheel rising and falling in the upper atmosphere like a gigantic helium hoop, an ecstatic helium hoop composed entirely of tiny starlings. Uncanny coordination keeping this puff ball bouncing above the darkening hinterland. A sudden flash expansion, an abrupt change in density, transforms the wheel into a westering comet, plunging towards the horizon, hauling its rippling tail against the drag and force of gravity, barely above the tree tops. Near instantaneous signal processing dictates flock dynamics; every bird synchronising a roll into the next swerve, banking angles not only mirroring its scudding neighbours but also identical to companions on the outermost reaches of the flock, maintaining alignment and cohesion with every shift and shimmy, every dart and glide, balletic poise for each tiny pattern change, for every large scale transfiguration.
Now the starlings are a display of inverted fireworks, black against the dying daylight instead of bright against the dark of night. They erupt upwards, a viscous inky fountain rising to an apex before cascading in consummate streamers of ease to mesh, to coalesce once more into a coiling snake above the tree tops, the strobe of constant volume change imbuing the image with the sinewy movement of a serpent.
It is as if some cosmic artist were drawing a shoal of iron filings hither and thither across the canvas of the sky. Constantly etching and sketching these spontaneous aerodynamics; now stippling, now cross hatching, now graduating or saturating densities to portray unconscious competence. Yeats comes to mind; A line will take us hours maybe, yet if it does not appear a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstitching shall be nought. Instantaneous alterations of speed and shape literally tell of creativity on the wing by the swarming birds.
In this symphony of silence, each bird has tempered the individual voice. No showy solos to highlight iridescent plumage or dappled whites or scatterings of blacks and purples and glossy greens. This is an egalitarian rhapsody, rhythmic flight to celebrate the end of another day, vespers of velocity to ward off any evil Valkyrie intent on infiltrating the roost under the cloak of approaching darkness.
What would Gerald Manley Hopkins have made of this. He wrote The Windhover after sighting a single kestrel. Here he would have witnessed a towering multitude of birds, ten thousand times ten thousand starlings, all off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend.
Then, as if in response to a conductor’s baton, all the birds descend as one from on high to form a horizontal skein just above the tree tops, undulations mingling intricately, over and back, close to the darkening outline of the horizon.
The final sector of the sun slips from sight and, smoothly, the flock of starlings drops into the jagged silhouette of woods and hedging. The opal sky turns to violet. I switch the key in the ignition and the silence is startled.
Humans of Listowel
Sean and Mary Comerford and Peggy Treacy meet a friend in Gurtinard