Beltane and Birdsong

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Words by Mark Sparrow

Beltane

We stand at the beginning of May, the traditional Celtic festival of Beltane, marking the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Beltane celebrates the rich fecundity of nature – the power of the life force to flourish: our hedgerows are bursting with hawthorn, or may blossom, traditionally gathered into garlands at this time to renew the bonds between people and the land; the trees on and around the farm have almost all come into leaf; birds are nesting and raising their first broods and the grass is growing apace.

Beltane was the traditional time of year to turn cattle out into fresh summer pasture, making the most of all that new growth. On the farm we turned the cows out a few days before Beltane this year because of the early warmth and they are relishing the sweet plenty of fresh green after their months inside the barn.

We can all take the energy of Beltane and use it to reflect on where we are in the yearly cycle of nature:

What has been growing and is now ready to burst?

What is flourishing?

What desires have been harboured that are now ready to become reality?

This is the perfect time to take the next step in creating the life we want to see for ourselves. If we allow the abundance of Beltane to support us, we can all take bold steps in this moment of rampant growth.

Path

And Birdsong

The beginning of May also marks the peak of the dawn chorus.

Birds begin singing in March but now their song is at its height as the daylight lengthens and the need to secure a territory and find a mate strengthens. This morning I was woken at 5.15am by the most glorious blackbird song just outside the house and, tuning into it, I’ve continued to hear blackbirds all day.

I have been struck by two articles about birdsong this week. The first described the change that may come about in our cities if the needed switch to electric vehicles takes place: among their many benefits to the environment, electric vehicles are much quieter and so the likelihood is that we will begin to hear birdsong much more clearly in our urban streets again. The second article described the significant benefit to mental health that listening to birdsong has – listening to 5 minutes of birdsong a day can lower blood pressure, instil a sense of calm and improve mood for up to four hours.

These two articles confirm once again that by looking after our environment, we are also looking after ourselves – imagine that quiet city filled with birdsong and those calm commuters serenaded by a blackbird’s bubbling song!

Maybe we could all take five minutes today to listen to the song of a bird?

Whether you are in city or countryside be ready to hear a bird sing. Stop, close your eyes if you can and allow your attention to focus fully on the sound: we don’t have to be experts in birdsong to enjoy this moment; no need to work out where the bird is or think about what species it might be, just allow ourselves to hear the song as it emerges. Notice the phrases, the notes, the pauses. Notice the responses of other birds. And notice how we respond:

Does the breathing  change?

The body relaxed or tighten?

What emotions are there?

Now return to the birdsong and enjoy its melodiousness before opening the eyes and continuing as we were.

brown bird

Such Singing in the Wild Branches – Mary Oliver

   It was spring
    and I finally heard him
    among the first leaves -
    then I saw him clutching the limb

    in an island of shade
    with his red-brown feathers
    all trim and neat for the new year.
    First, I stood still

    and thought of nothing.
    Then I began to listen.
    Then I was filled with gladness -
    and that's when it happened,

    when I seemed to float,
    to be, myself, a wing or a tree -
    and I began to understand
    what the bird was saying,

    and the sands in the glass
    stopped
    for a pure white moment
    while gravity sprinkled upward

    like rain, rising,
    and in fact
    it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -
    it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

    not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
    and also the trees around them,
    as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
    in the perfect blue sky - all of them

    were singing.
    And, of course, so it seemed,
    so was I.
    Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

    For more than a few moments.
    It's one of those magical places wise people
    like to talk about.
    One of the things they say about it, that is true,

    is that, once you've been there,
    you're there forever.
    Listen, everyone has a chance.
    Is it spring, is it morning?

    Are there trees near you,
    and does your own soul need comforting?
    Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
    may already be drifting away.

Enjoy the richness of May – please feel free to forward this article to anyone who you think might be interested. 

Love

Mark

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Mark Sparrow

Mark Sparrow is a trained counsellor, Ecopsychologist and passionate advocate of life in harmony in Nature. You can find out more about him and his practice over at https://www.marksparrowcounselling.co.uk/.

Mark also runs Angel Cottage Organics at the beautiful Haddon Copse Farm in Dorset with his partner Tom. Find out more about the farm, including a number of courses that make the most of the stunning natural landscape by going to www.angelcottageorganics.co.uk

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