The reading by David Rothenberg focuses on the songs of the nightingale in the third chapter of Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound. Rothenberg touches briefly on the Greek myth pertaining to the origin of the nightingale: the myth of Philomela, Queen Procne, and King Tereus. To recap, Tereus raped Philomela, and when she went to tell Procne, his wife and her sister, Tereus cut Philomela’s tongue out. Philomela was able to communicate to her sister what happened through a tapestry Philomela wove. In vengeance, Procne murdered her son, Itys, and served his head to Tereus. The gods ended up transforming each of them into birds; Philomela a nightingale, Tereus a hoopoe, and Procne a swallow. Philomela’s story is one of tragedy, especially when considering that her name means “lover of song”, and is doubly tragic when one learns that the female nightingale also typically does not sing; the male usually is the musician. It was interesting that Rothenberg decided to include such a story in a chapter about the beauty of the nightingale’s song, but now more than ever, the songs of the nightingale, and by extension, of nature have been suppressed. As a consequence of the Anthropocene, multiple large cities have sprung up, and with them, a cacophony of sounds to drown out nature’s natural “song”. The sounds of humanity permeate almost every corner of the globe, either they are directly built by humanity, such as the cities, or indirectly caused, such as the sounds of cracking ice in the Arctic. I believe Rothenberg intended this connection to be drawn between the silencing of Philomela and the silencing of nature’s song, with us, as humankind, playing the part of the tyrannical king Tereus. Instead of playing the single character of Tereus, we will play both Tereus and his son Itys; both the offender, and the one who takes the punishment for it, while nature will continue on, past the demise of our species.
Monthly Archives: November 2021
Getting Lost in Nature
At the risk of sounding like other essays, I think one of my favorite sounds is the ocean and I just really feel at peace down at the beach. I’m thankful to live in Western Washington where there are plenty of, albeit rocky, beaches. During covid I was able to go down to beaches whenever I wanted to and hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the shore quickly became one of my favorite and most comforting sounds. However my favorite place in the whole world is on the Washington Coast, away from everything and just on the beach.
When I was younger, when my family first took us to the coast I noticed how much different, and less affected by human activity the coast was. I noticed how the air was much fresher than back home, how everything seemed quieter, and how there was so much untouched land. Even though the place that we visited had human activity, it still felt like it was in its own corner of the world, untouched by the major effects of human intervention. Personally, I don’t think that part of the Washington Coast will ever get as developed as say Seattle, but I do think that there will be more development to come in the future. And as more development happens not just on the Washington coast or the Oregon coast but the whole world, I feel like there will be a lack of that serene and calmness of being in nature.
I think that the anthropocene really defines how much humans have changed the planet and I think that the largest piece of anecdotal evidence is the loss of the ability to feel lost in nature. Don’t get me wrong, there are still tons of places to get lost in nature, but it is undeniable that as human activity has increased, the amount of land that could provide this sort of feeling has diminished. And while there are many disastrous effects of climate change, I think that losing the calming sense of just being out in nature will be a less noticeable, but still sad loss at the hands of human overdevelopment.
The Perfect Sound Is Living
Sharawaji is the perfect sound. It’s the phenomena that David Rothenberg has to write pages about just to explain what it means. There is no one example that could be known as the perfect sound, because as we learn the perfect sound is subjective. It can only be perfect to you, or perfect to that moment, or perfect to the place. Through the many combinations of stories I think I was able to begin forming my own understanding of the word. I don’t think I will truly understand it anytime soon, but I was so captivated that I’m sure I will keep my ears open to try and find it.
To start my understanding I examined my own favorite sound, the sound of my heartbeat underwater in a bathtub. When I reflected on this sound I knew that I enjoy it because It brings me comfort and I only hear it at the perfect moment: a calming bath. After reading the entirety of this chapter I found the truth in why I enjoy this sound, and what makes a sound perfect. A large portion of the text revolves around this idea of the tremendous sound of a glacier breaking. Its a powerful sound but what makes it tremendous is the fact that it is an equally powerful occurrence. When a glarier breaks we are faced with what this class is all about, the consequences of human actions. The concept of the earth being destroyed. On its own we know its real, we talk about it daily, yet somehow nothing seems to be done about it. Maybe that’s because we never hear the sound of the glacier breaking. Just because we know its happening doesn’t mean it’s really a reality. Even more thought provoking is the idea from Galvani, that when a glacier hears the sound of a crumbling glacier, will they too crumble? Maybe this tremendous sound is so powerful because it is the sound of death, and when a glacier is faced with its own death it too may choose to cave.
This is a sound of life and death. In this glacier cascade, eventually there will be no more glaciers to crumble, and finally the sound will stop. We as humans will be left with no sound. We knew the glaciers died and through the sound of them crumbling we knew they were once alive. In this moment when there are no more sounds for us to hear, we will realize the meaning of sharawaji, that the perfect sound is anything that proves we are alive. And surely when I can no longer hear my own favorite sound it will be proof of my death.
The Eternal Song of Nature
I have never heard a nightingale in person. While reading about it’s song, I listened to a recording of the bird singing. While this is no replacement for hearing the nightingale in real life, I wanted to get an idea of it’s sound. I took away two main messages in regards to the Anthropocene from the passage (Chapter 3 of David Rothenberg’s Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound). First, the pauses and voids in the song of the nightingale mentioned by Rothenberg, along with what I heard over recording, really emphasize the importance and beauty of silence. In the Anthropocene, we are almost always exposed to human sounds. They permeate through our lives. Even when we are sleeping, the sounds of a distant road, the hum of a refrigerator, or of the very building we live in creaking in the wind always fill our ears with sound.
The first time I remember going deep inside a cave, I really realized the permanence of sound into our every waking moment. We all turned off our lights and sat motionless on the rocks of the cave in silence. The lack of light and sound was shocking. Other than the faint sound of dripping water every now and then, there was nothing. There is so little sensory input that when you wave your hand in front of your face, your brain tricks you into thinking you can see it, even though it would be completely impossible since there is an absolute absence of light. The pauses in the nightingale’s song remind me of this sensation. We live in a world so saturated by human activity that we don’t even notice. It is like living in a giant white noise machine that never turns off. It is vital that we recognize how much we have filled our world with pollution, and not just the garbage and carbon emissions we usually think of. We pollute the world around us with sound and light too.
This leads me to my second takeaway from the chapter. The sounds of nature are fundamentally different from the sounds of modern human activity. The mechanized sounds of the present day are distinctly monotone and abruptly dull. They are byproducts of our activity. This is why the nightingale’s song is so entrancing. It sounds pure and full of intent, yet we drown it out in our cities and cut down the forests in which it thrives. It is a perfect example of the Anthropocene. It demonstrates our tendency to destroy nature’s beauty as a byproduct of our unrelenting expansion, but the nightingale doesn’t seem to care. It returns to the trees in our cities and keeps on singing, even if we drown out it’s song.
Nightingales SIng True
Upon reading chapter 3, Beginnings of Time, I honestly struggled to see a correlation between the themes discussed and the Anthropocene. However, I examined the main idea closer, and that main idea was that humans have had such an expansive impact on Earth that there is hardly any place free of human sound. I liked how the author connected the Anthropocene to how it impacted animals. Particularly, the author evaluated how singing birds and more specifically nightingales, are impacted and how they adapt to the environment as we have changed it. Interestingly, this chapter claims that many birds have been benefited from human’s impact on nature. A beautiful relationship was drawn between all beings of the Earth, that no matter the difference in language or species, we can all connect and understand one another through music.
In this chapter, poetry was deeply analyzed. Another theme that came up was that humans try to copy the music nightingales create, but can never live up to the skill and natural talent of the nightingales. I think this idea emphasizes the greater sentiment that the original is always superior, no matter who tries to copy them. Nightingales can sing perfectly for hours, while humans may struggle to keep up their tune for an hour. These birds return to their same exact territories, so although we have humans change and shape the world, the nightingales stay true to their habits and continue as they always have, adapting to their changing world yet honoring who they are.
A third important idea is that there is sound all around us constantly, and we are hearing it, but we are not always listening. The author encourages us to deeply listen. Taking time to listen to your surroundings is important to living in the moment and appreciating your environment.
Song of the Nightingale 🐦
In an anthropogenic worldview, nature will often take on an otherwordly or fantastical quality. When humanity is no longer considered a part within nature, nature becomes a detachment that inspires and mystifies. As mentioned by David Rothenberg in the third chapter of his book Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, perhaps this is why the nightingale and other singing birds have entranced humans over the centuries. It has no external musical instruments, nor any methods of recording its songs. And yet these birds have a wondrous gift of melody, capable of constructing unique and complex songs singlehandedly. They contribute to the overall complexity of nature by proving that the production music is not restricted to humans, and that such complex processes as melody can be reproduced without sapient thought.
But even if we consider the alternative worldview, that places humanity inside of the larger concept of nature, the nightingale and its music still holds true as a beautiful thing. Making humanity of subservient importance to nature actually makes more sense in the context of music-making. It would explain how both birds and humans can create and share music. Humanity’s obession over the nightingale’s music and replicating it to some capacity would also make sense here. Seeing the two species as equals and mutual benefactors allows for unique discussion on the transfer of ideas. Music could be considered an example of ideas that can transcend a single species of animal, as humans seek to copy the singing birds, and vice versa.
Either way, it is important to realize that humans have uniquely altered the landscape, and the resulting loss in biodiversity and underappreciation for nature’s wonder has led to the nightingale and its kind to dwindle. They are less noticeable in the dense urban soundscape of cars and industry, and they are less present in the minds of men and women who have less time to think about nature. They were once important enough to be referenced by name in Shakespearean poetry and Romantic literature, but now it feels like as a society we worry more about anthropogenic problems. The road to repariring our relationship with nature is long and arduous, but by listening to the birds sing and understanding the significance of their music, perhaps there will be more incentive to starting the long journey.
My experience with a Mockingbird
I chose to read and reflect on chapter 3 of the reading. I enjoyed the sentiment of the reading that circled around how modern science drastically minimizes the essence of Nature by “name[ing] the facts of Nature away” (34). Giving a species a name makes it so humans tend to not look beyond the label; we know what the species is, therefore, there is nothing else to learn. The scientific process of labeling and briefly explaining Nature makes it so humans believe they know everything they need to know about a species.
As the reading points out, this way of looking at Nature benefits those who want to exploit Nature. The reading uses the example of the woodcutter’s relationship to the nightingale: “He isn’t going to let that hopeless unstoppable song prevent him from cutting down their homes so people can have wood to burn and build. The birds will need to sing somewhere else” (35). Looking at Nature through labels removes the mystery, the curiosity, and the uniqueness. Species become uniform, all members are interchangeable. Removing the individualism of a species removes fault from the harming of a few; it doesn’t matter if these five birds are killed because they are identical to the other thousands of them in this forest. However, each animal and plant in Nature is unique and has its own story.
I related to this reading as I have had an experience with a particular male mockingbird. I took the year off school last year to travel around the country to volunteer on organic farms. While I was on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, I noticed a bird who sat on the very top of the evergreen tree by the main house. I noticed that he sat there for hours every day. He would often leave but would come back every morning. I noticed he had hundreds of different calls and could switch between them effortlessly. Every few minutes, he jumped up into the air, flapping his wings and showing off his beautiful patterns. I spent a few minutes each day observing this beautiful bird. With great confidence, he sang his little heart out, and, like clockwork, he leaped into the sky. Mockingbirds learn their songs over time, so this bird’s songs were unique to his life experiences.
It was impactful to see the same bird every day; I began to rely on his presence. There was a period, perhaps a month, where he was nowhere to be found. I had assumed that he had found a mate, and had left his perch for good. However, one morning in early summer, I heard his familiar call (which was multiple tunes strung together). He had come back to his tree and was leaping in the morning light. He was unique. He was not just one of many mockingbirds, but he was his own bird, with his own tree and his own unique songs.
Improvisation is key. Birds do it to survive in human areas, and humans do it in music. Nightingales are one example: they are artists who create music that is heard during all parts of the day. They inspired poets earlier in history. There are numerous poems illustrating the power of the nightingales’ songs. The nightingales were viewed as poets themselves who are skilled using sound. Humans have even collaborated with nightingales. The trio album “And Vex the Nightingale”, is one example of this combination (Beginnings of Time). Lucie, the composer of the album, managed to synchronize with the nightentale. He left space for the bird, and worked at its pace. Nightingale music takes numerous hours, and has to be one long sequence. People can even determine the identity of a nightingale based on the amount of songs and how well they sing a song. This is noticed when the birds come back to trees they have inhabited after migrating.
Nightingales are even considered the bird of love. They are referenced in Romeo and Juliet, with importance given to the nightingale singing or not. Nightingales also are referenced in Greek mythology, meaning its history encompasses thousands of years. It is difficult to understand but music is hard to create. THe artists who make it have to constantly keep working. It can be repetitive. But it is interesting that animals as unique as whales can sing as well. Music seems like a way for multiple species to communicate if they cannot understand language. Nature may have caused animals to have the ability to make music for this reason in my opinion.
Nightingales will live through all. Even if the human race disappeared, nightingales would continue to spread music across the Earth. Everyone should have the pleasure to listen to nightingales music once.
Music is something that’s present everywhere in the world and is especially exemplified in birdsongs. As described by David Rothenberg in Chapter 3 of Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, the music found in nature holds a different kind of value than man-made music. Nightingales specifically have had a significant impact in literature since the times of Shakespeare and were especially loved by the Romantic poets. They recognized the beauty of the nightingale’s song, and it became a sort of emblem in their poems, a common ingredient in their recipe for writing. Human-made music has a unique quality, but natural music holds a beauty found only in nature and can’t be fully replicated by humans. This natural music is important in showing how we humans can’t remake or replicate anything made by nature. Thinking about the Anthropocene in relation to this reading, it’s interesting to note the relationship between humans and the things created by nature. This current environmental epoch is widely defined by the impact humans have had on this planet. Although some good can come from human interference in nature, many negative things can come from it as well, including the extinction of entire species of animals. The elimination of these species can’t be undone, and it’s important to recognize that fact. If we put so much value in the beauty of these animals, we must also put more effort into protecting them and ensuring the environment can remain stable enough for animals to survive and thrive. Climate change and global warming are undeniably current issues in our world. They’re caused by humans, but humans can also be the ones to make a change and turn around the climate crisis. The music found in nature has been an inspiration for people for centuries and is something that we can’t replace if lost. If we want to continue appreciating birdsongs and other natural music, we have to first recognize our responsibility in preserving the animals that create it.
Sickening To Think About
‘Sickening’… get it?
This week readings focuses on epidemic, old and new and how they have shaped our world. To me, they have made me think about how much our present views and attitudes are perfectly shaped by our past. Without the presence of deadly disease that revenged the Americans, what would’ve the outcome been. We view Europe as the most powerful and advanced group of people from 1000 AD on, but how much of that is due to these diseases? If 90% of all Americans weren’t wiped out and were available to fight the colonizers as they were attempting to colonize I think there would’ve been a different outcome. I still think Europe would’ve colonized to a certain degree because of their technology but we can not be certain at all that they would’ve been able to take down the Aztec or Mayan empires. However, we do have a reference. The Native Americans from current day America were not just wiped out by disease. From what I’ve learned, their population estimates were in the 50 millions and they by 1960 they numbered a little over 5 million. And as I said, this was not just due to disease, it was an intentional genocide, brought about by the means of murder, in the physical and cultural sense. So I think that the Europeans would’ve still had much “success”, but the Aztecs and Mayans were very powerful at their peaks, which the Europeans never had to face, as stated by the readings (unless I’m misinterpreting them). The Americas today are now in shambles, being completely dominated for centuries by Europe and now dominated by the modern colonizer of America. I wonder if they would have a nation that would be considered by todays standards powerful if they were available to fight.
The Past and Pending
As someone who really likes history, and really likes epidemiology, this week’s reading was especially engaging. I will start with Lewis and Maslin’s “Defining the Anthropocene”. I have always been fascinated by how carbon-14 dating and other such methods are so able to date times long past. The parts of the paper that most stood out to me were when they talked about the methods that they used to track human impact. The part where they looked at preserved Maize pollen in Europe to determine when the first cross Atlantic trading occurred blew my mind.
Onto the second paper, “From Columbus to COVID-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” by George Lovell. I really enjoyed the way he broke down the impacts of disease location by location. I also find it interesting how much debate there is over how many people originally lived here in the Americas before colonization took off. The only records we have are of the local people writing of almost total societal collapse, and of the Spanish just treating the Native Americans like cattle. Because of this, coming to a total is very difficult. There is also a pretty big leap in the estimated number of people originally along the 1900’s. The earliest cited paper, Kroeber 1939, estimated a mere 8.4 million native Americans originally. Compare this to the figure of 60.5 million from Maslin and Lewis. History, especially this sort of stuff that we aren’t really taught about in high school, really interests me. It also begs the question, what would have happened if these societies never broke down right as the Spanish came to attack.
Lewis and Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” Nature (March 2015), excerpt: “Collision of the Old and New Worlds” (p. 174-175)
Lovell, “From Columbus to COVID-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” Journal of Latin American Geography (July 2020), 177-185
unseen causes of climate change
During one of our earlier classes, as a class we were discussing how covid has humbled humans, in a way. I think that the readings from this week, especially the reading of the genocide of indeginous people and how it draws parallels to covid. Taking a step back from Columbus and the result of his voyage, covid has really shown the world that we are still human and that there are things that we cannot predict can happen.
Covid is a virus, which means you can’t see it unless it is under a microscope, and I think that covid could also be used like climate change. Because both are unseen, many people are unaware of how big of an issue it really is. In the earliest stages of covid, back during the summer of 2020, people were protesting lockdown mandates that were there to help keep everyone safe. I think because people either didn’t know someone who got covid, or couldn’t see the impacts of covid (among other reasons) they thought that lockdown was ineffective. While that is simplifying and ignoring some points, I would be surprised if in those early days there weren’t at least a handful of people who thought that way.
I think that this is also like how some people see climate change, they think that because they haven’t seen the real effects of climate change they think that it isn’t happening or that it isn’t as big of a deal as it is made out to be. I think that the fact that there are some pockets in the U.S. that haven’t really experienced the same amount of warming over the past 100 years as the rest of the country has, means that they don’t feel the same thing that everyone on the news they watch talks about.
Because of the fact that climate change is an unseen problem it may lead to more than a few people thinking that whatever is being talked about isn’t real. However just because there are people who downplay or outright deny the existence of climate change, it doesn’t mean that work to mitigate climate change should be stopped.