The same darn thing would happen every day at this time of the year. She would be woken by the clang of sharp clawed feet bouncing on her bedroom’s flat roof. The bounce was accompanied by a sharp ‘kaw-kaw’ cutting through the blissful silence of sleep. For the last ten years, a succession of magpies had chosen her house as a venue for an early morning rendezvous. Just as the sun came up (stupid o’clock, she called it) the black and white winged warriors would congregate and bounce back and forth across her roof, ‘kaw-kaw-ing’ with the enthusiasm of school children on a day trip to the zoo. The result was that her bedroom became an echo chamber of shrillness and sleep was banished.
The first time this happened she panicked, not knowing what the heck was going on. She bolted upright in bed, eyes like saucers and heart jumping out of her pyjama top. Once she realised that death was not a threat, she settled back to bed and began to let her mind wander over the memory banks of sounds she had stored up throughout life. Was it a rat walking in her attic? No, there was no attic directly above her bed and the rat would have to be the size of a cat to make that noise. A cat, then? No, cats were quiet, stealthy creatures, not like these disco dancing… birds! That was it, she recognised the noise as the noise of birds. She got up again and looked her of her bedroom window. As she did one of the birds flew off and she recognised it as a magpie. She lay down once more, cursing those birds. Sleep eluded her and resentment settled in for those first days of their visits.
And so it had gone for ten years now, every day for about a month or so from the start of March. The noisy visitors would return, have their month-long morning congregation and then leave again until the next year. For those first few years, she dreaded their return; so much so that sleep eluded her in the weeks leading up to their inevitable return. In those early days she tried everything she could think of to scare the birds away. She banged on the windows and on the ceiling with a broom she had begun to keep in her bedroom ‘just in case they come back tonight’. She leaned out of the bedroom window and shouted ‘Go away. Leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.’ And she hadn’t, of course. Still, they came.
Eventually she realised that she was making more noise trying to chase the birds than the birds were making themselves. This insight hit her one morning in the third year. It came, as insight often does, from another person. A neighbour mentioned to her in the front garden one day that there had been a terrible racket that morning coming from one of the houses nearby, ‘a woman was screaming like a banshee about not deserving the bouncing feet hitting off her head. I nearly phoned the police!’ Insight gained, she stopped her early morning rant at the birds. And still they came.
One morning, in the sixth year of their visitation, she had once again jumped up out of her sleep at the sound of the first thud of the clawed foot on tile.’ That’s me awake now. My day is ruined once more.’ But then a strange thing happened as she lay there awake. The alarm went off and woke her up! She had actually fallen back asleep in the midst of the now familiar noise. She sighed and got up. Next morning, they came back.
Another time, in the seventh year, when she had been awakened and couldn’t get back to sleep, she went down to her kitchen door and looked out at just the right time to see the most spectacular sunrise of golds and reds and oranges. She stood in awe of the glory of the cosmos (as the magpies sang a steady ‘kaw-kaw’ in the background). The birds came just in the mouth that heralded the awakenings of spring. ‘A most wonderful time of the year’ she thought. ‘I should do this more often. I’ll get up when the birds wake me and I’ll watch the sunrise.’ And so she did.
From the seventh year onwards, she used the birds as an early alarm call. She began to photograph the sunrises she witnessed and keep them in an album that she glanced at when times got tough. The sight of the majestic colours and the huge expanse of the sky reminded her that life was bigger than any problem she faced and that there was much more beyond this earthly existence we have. The pictures drew her into contemplating the meaning of life and the existence of a creator God. She enjoyed this and began to live her early morning photography sessions for what they would give back to her in beautiful, healing photographs.
In the ninth year, another strange thing happened. In the weeks running up to the return of the birds, she began to wake early all by herself again. She wasn’t annoyed these times, though. Her body felt well rested and she was excited about the sunrise. She took some of her best pictures that year; some before the birds came and some while they were there, stomping about and making a racket as usual.
In the tenth year, she was in a deep, deep sleep, dreaming about being held in loving arms where everything was well, when suddenly what must have been the heaviest magpie ever landed on her roof with full force, followed by an army of fellow feathered feisty foot stompers. They bounced with all their might, all the while ‘kaw-kaw-ing’ like she had never heard before. She bolted upright, eyes like saucers and heart jumping out of her pyjama top. She smiled.
‘Welcome back, my uncomfortable, disruptive friends. Spring is on the way.’ She got up, grabbed her camera and greeted the sunrise.
(Cover pic taken by Helen Stewart)