When the songbirds leave.

Crisscrossed legs … hands at rest … half-closed eyes. I sat on the floor in quiet contemplation.

It was not quite a meditation, because my mind was simply refusing to be still ­– too busy flying from perch to perch of thought and concern and unfulfilled plans.

Then through the crack of an outer door, there came the unmistakable sounds of birds: melodious chirps and soft cries, the flutter of wings, and all the daily business of being creatures who hop and pluck and rustle through leaves for a living. But it was their singing that was the most intriguing – a comfort and a distraction and a focus all in one.

From an unsorted corner of my memory there awoke the knowledge that some birds can take up to 30 mini-breaths a second to replenish their lungs – to call out and make known their presence and wants. A silly thing to remember, it somehow fell in well with the flitting mini-thoughts that defined my own breath-of-being that day.

It seemed as though a dozen birds were singing – some all at once, like a choir of independent musicians brought together by arrangement and shared purpose. Others took their turns, back and forth, from one to the next, a sort of call-and-response, like old church music, and the Blues.

Since they were hidden from my sight, however, there could have been just two or three individual birds accounting for the entire symphony. After all, one bird alone can produce up to 300 different melodies. Another might provide more than 40 changes in notes, while yet another may repeat his particular song half a million times in a single season – as if his life depended on his voice being heard. As if his heart would break if there were no one listening. (As I suspect it can feel for most of us.)

I find it no small connection that birdsong, recorded and played back at a highly reduced speed, has been discovered to follow all the same rules and principles of classical music form – similar to Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I wonder if it is we humans who have learned the “rules” from them. Perhaps our souls are so entwined with them – and other creatures of the earth – that we share knowledge on a level far deeper than we consciously comprehend.

The birds outside the door this day enchanted me with their messages and secrets. They caught at my spirit and took it upon their wings and swooped and soared heavenward; and they feathered my heart and nested there for a moment or two. And then their music faded away … until there was just one. One lone and insistent cry and call, one final song and sigh. And then it, too, stopped. With a terrible suddenness.

It was, somehow, the sound of loss. I heard only the silence. And I was deeply saddened by what once was there and now was gone.

There is a John Steinbeck line in The Winter of Our Discontent that says: “It is so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

And so it was with my birds that day. Because I had heard their music, I heard the silence; yet I felt the trade a fair one.

But then, from out of the silence, something whispered into my heart – like lyrics, repeating as if it were still a bird’s own song: not gone, not gone, never gone … just singing in a place where you can no longer hear it.

Perhaps this is the way of all lost things. All silent voices. All lights gone dark. All souls departed. They are still there, still singing – simply in some other place, for some other heart to hear, charming another spirit.

And as I waited there, still in contemplation, listening to the silence of the birds, with a shift in time and wind and mind, I began to hear the leaves.