Garden notes: Falcon!

Garden Notes: Wednesday 1.30.2008

Falcon! There! In the sky. Wheeling, slowly gliding in the breezy air. Circling.
All the time in the world. Across the sky, the wide blue cloudless sunny sky. Circling.

One p.m. Bright sunny day. Cloudless.

A shaft of sunlight strikes the falcon on its back feathers. Rich, rich, brown gold. Deep rich illumined gold, burning, burnished, in a rich brown field. No light like sunlight.
The sun comes through the wings. Underneath, two large brown dots –like, it strikes me, a WWII RAF Spitfire plane. But these “dots” are large and dark and brown, against that light (latte) field.

The wing-tip feathers are bent, curved back, strong in the strong wind, subtly steering. Glide. Glide. Wheel, round and round, slowly. Large circles, slowly. Round and round.

Slow, slow wheel. Scanning.

Just…looking. (The consumer’s defence: “Just…looking”)

(“My” sparrows –without my particularly noticing it: I had been playing them a “new” song on the keyboard– had all retreated to their thick hedge.)

Above us all, the slow-wheeling falcon moves in its wide circle. At the same time it is drifting across the wide sky. Across the stage, moving ever so slowly, from right to left, from the trees on the ridge, into the wide, open expanse of sky.
And then, eventually, moves from view, behind the rooftops to the left.


(This falcon –a Peregrine, like all the others– seemed somewhat smaller than the big one I wrote about recently, but bigger than the young one that perched on the trellis, around the same time.)

After a “suitable” interval –we will have to take their word for it– the sparrows return, and soon after, the mourning doves. They resume feeding.

After a while, two of the mourning doves repair to the tree of heaven at the bottom of the garden. The rest of the doves fly off to a roost in the big trees.

A strong gust of wind blows some dead leaves off the roof in a sudden rising cloud. The two mourning doves fly off.
It is one thirty-one; time to go.


Oh, I forgot. Something happened earlier that now seems quite ….magical; quite poetic.

I had, as I mentioned, been playing my keyboard for the birds –part of my “experiments”– before I spotted the falcon.

Today, I am playing them a new song. Some of you know that I have a great love of Beatles songs, with a shorter list of real favorites. Yesterday, a “new” one came to me that had not previously been an especial favorite –the ethereal “Across the Universe”. I heard it quite by chance on the radio.
It seems that a tune can suddenly take on a richness previously unappreciated. Now, “Across the Universe” becomes that tune, the exact right tune for the moment, the only tune for me for now.
The surreal lyrics –John Lennon’s, I feel sure, though Paul can still surprise me– become a haunting poetry.
Poignant. Possessing. Sublime. Probably because of the current especially tawdry litany of events across our universe; events, perhaps, that for some reason seemed especially dispiriting yesterday.

What were those chords? I get out my Beatles book: E flat, G minor, F minor seventh, B flat. Beautiful.
And the words –“Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup….they slip away, across the universe.”

The slow long line of the melody, simple but majestic, unwinds. And resolves. It came back to me later –in truth it probably never left my mind, as a tune played before bed will often still be in your head in the morning.
Naturally, I got the idea to play it for my birds.

Did they “like” it? Well, they all gathered –the sparrows close together on the trellis, chest-feathers puffed out against the cold; the mourning doves arrayed on the small sycamore tree behind them.
The French Horn voice caught the attention of the doves. And –a new discovery– the sparrows had a distinct and lively response to the Recorder voice. (Upon reflection, I could find a rationale for both responses, considering the differences in the pitch of dove and sparrow song.)
Across the universe.

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2 Responses to “Garden notes: Falcon!”

  1. Beth

    NASA launching Beatles tune into space Fri Feb 1, 11:07 AM ET

    The Beatles are about to become radio stars in a whole new way. NASA on Monday will broadcast the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” across the galaxy to Polaris, the North Star.

    This first-ever beaming of a radio song by the space agency directly into deep space is nostalgia-driven. It celebrates the 40th anniversary of the song, the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Deep Space Network, which communicates with its distant probes, and the 50th anniversary of NASA.

    “Send my love to the aliens,” Paul McCartney told NASA through a Beatles historian. “All the best, Paul.”

    The song, written by McCartney and John Lennon, may have a ticket to ride and will be flying at the speed of light. But it will take 431 years along a long and winding road to reach its final destination. That’s because Polaris is 2.5 quadrillion miles away.

    NASA loaded an MP3 of the song, just under four minutes in its original version, and will transmit it digitally at 7 p.m. EST Monday from its giant antenna in Madrid, Spain. But if you wanted to hear it on Polaris, you would need an antenna and a receiver to convert it back to music, the same way people receive satellite television.

    The idea came from Martin Lewis, a Los Angeles-based Beatles historian, who then got permission from McCartney, Yoko Ono and the two companies that own the rights to Beatles’ music. One of those companies, Apple, was happy to approve the idea because is “always looking for new markets,” Lewis said.

    Perhaps coincidentally, the song’s launching comes a day before the release of the DVD of the Julie Taymor movie named after the Beatles hit.

    Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

  2. Beth

    … and following the AP bulletin (in comment posted earlier today), here’s an article in the NYTimes, which appeared online this evening. “… Hands across the sky…”

    February 1, 2008, 4:47 pm
    NASA Says, “Hello, Universe. Meet the Beatles.”
    By Patrick J. Lyons

    A NASA antenna at Fort Irwin, Calif. (NASA photo)If you’re out there in deep space, you’ll want to be tuning in at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, Feb. 4 (plus however long it takes electromagnetic radiation to reach you from Earth doing the 186,000-miles-a-second speed limit).

    That’s when NASA will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first space mission the launch of the Explorer 1 satellite by using the system of huge antennas that usually listen for inbound signals from space to send one outbound instead: the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe,” which as it happens was mostly recorded exactly 40 years earlier, on Feb. 4, 1968.

    Reception will be best in the general direction of Polaris, 431 lightyears away, which is where NASA is aiming the signal. (That would be the North Star to us laymen.) But it ought to be audible in plenty of places on Earth as well, at least by imitation: NASA is encouraging space fans and Beatle fans alike to play the song themselves at the same time.
    NASA’s press release includes some perfectly in-character comments from Sir Paul McCartney (Amazing! Well done, NASA! Send my love to the aliens. All the best, Paul.) and from Yoko Ono, widow of John Lennon, the song’s main author (I see that this is the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe). Presumably, Julie Taymor will be pleased as well; her film “Across the Universe,” built around a soundtrack of Beatle songs, is still in theaters and contending for an Oscar; it is due for release on DVD on Tuesday.

    The event also commemorates the 45th anniversary of the creation of the antenna system, the Deep Space Network, which NASA uses to explore space at one remove by listening to the electromagnetic radiation coming our way from Out There; the system also comes in handy for picking up data sent by space probes we have dispatched to the planets and beyond over the years.

    NASA doesn’t often send outgoing mail this way; the last high-profile American broadcast meant specifically for extraterrestrial ears was also the first, dispatched by Professor Frank Drake of Cornell University in 1974 during the dedication of the upgraded Arecibo radiotelescope in Puerto Rico. (No reply, at least so far.) But Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, which has been looking for signs of life beyond Earth since 1984, noted in an e-mail message to our colleague Dennis Overbye today that other groups in Ukraine and Canada have been sending signals in recent years.

    Of course, vast amounts of electromagnetic signals flood out from the Earth every day as a side effect of ordinary human-to-human activity, from TV and radio broadcasts, radar stations, satellite uplinks and other sources, and the leading wave of that stuff has an eight-decade head start.
    Proof of our existence is already out there, Dr. Shostak noted, thats simply a fact.

    An array of antennas that could pick up terrestrial TV signals in a distant solar system wouldn’t be hard to build, he observed. But there’s still plenty of time for any potential alien listener to tie-dye some T-shirts and stock the fridge before settling in to enjoy the song. Though scientists have found evidence of some 270 planets of other stars, most are extremely unlikely to support life, and all but a handful are far enough away that no readily detected, human-generated signal could yet have reached them.

    It’s safe to say that nobody knows of the existence of Homo sapiens (beyond this planet, of course), Dr. Shostak observed.

    A pity. The Lede was hoping for a little intergalactic help grokking that bit of Sanskrit in the chorus, Jai guru deva om.