When I grew up in the suburbs, the nights, at least during the school season, were quiet. You’d hear, outside the window, in your bed, maybe the slur of a car leaving or entering a driveway. No voices. In the summer, when the nights were long and people were out in their lawn chairs, then there’d be voices.
In the city, this changed. When I lived in a dubious section of New Haven, there were days when very threatening loud people would be going down the street. In Austin, in the parking lot that was right beneath the window of my cheap efficiency, sometimes there would be fights, or the sound of broken glass. Also, since the highway was near by, the sound of traffic. Not very insistent. In Paris, we can hear the sounds of cafes, sometimes singing. Singing! Cafes! Paris! This is real.
Here in Santa Monica, there is the perpetual late night hobo drama – someone is always pissed off, screaming, exhausted by a life without shelter. There are people parking in the street, the sound of doors closing. On weekends, there’s the sound of groups going to bars, talking, laughing. For the last six months, next door, they have been tearing down the old pet store and erecting a glassy office for Charles Schwab. This has meant a lot of heavy machinery starting up at six in the morning, and weird sounds in the evening, as though some late night crewe was out there. Before they tore down the pet store, its parking lot was another hobo junction. It is right below Adam’s window. Adam got an earful of fuck! Shit! And all the commonplace filler words that make up the excited conversation of people who are semi-inebriated, whether they are out on the street or twenty something frat boys.
When we go back to Paris, Adam will hear the café songs. And the ocassional drunk.
What I can’t remember hearing, but must have, is bird song. Two nights ago, we heard, marvelously, the chirping of some song birds up to eleven at night. I am hearing a bird singing right now. Now, I know, intellectually, that we are living in the age of who killed cock Robin – the petrochemical insecticide age, the age of vast environmental distruction, the end of the Holocene, that is forcing song birds to the wall. I am not sure that Adam will know those songs when he is my age. When I was a boy, our subdivision was not completely built out. There was still a small pond and a marsh near us. We put up a purple martin house and the martins came. Blue jays were plentiful. Robins, warblers, wrens, chickadees, cardinals, grosbeaks, swallows. I know things are quieter now. The Audubon society published a survey taken from a massive scan of birder notes over forty years – starting in 1967 – and they found this:
“Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.”
As we usher out the Holocene and humanity continues to take its century long spree on the planet, we are probably talking about passenger pigeon time for the bobwhite and the meadowlark and the lark.
So, enjoy the birdsong now. We killed cock robin…