Sunday morning at 6 a.m. at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, I will be leading a Listening Tour for Proteus Gowanus, as part of Proteus’ year-long series of events, exhibits, and performances centered around the theme of Migration.
The birds do it, some of the butterflies and dragonflies do it, and so do the sea turtles, and the caribou, and other animals, and, of course, we do it, too. Starting out from Africa, humans settled the planet remarkably quickly, and immigration and emigration have been facts of human life ever since.
So migration is a physical process, a translation from one place to another – the word translation originally meant “moving the body” and was originally used ecclesiastically, as in the translation of a bishop, but also in reference to the bodies of saints moved from here to there, like St. Mark’s, smuggled out of Egypt to Venice.
On the Listening Tour, we will be listening to the manifestation of an awe-inspiring migration, that of the birds who have arrived in recent days and weeks from the southeastern U.S., the Caribbean, and Central and South American. They have come north to breed, and many will continue on further into the far reaches of arctic Canada.
Songbirds in particular travel in such enormous numbers along the East Coast, the Atlantic Flyway, that they can be tracked by radar. There’s even a word for the anxious feeling migratory birds get when it comes time to move again: Zugunruhe, German for “migratory restlessness,” or more simply the urge to go. You see it even in captive-raised birds. An island of green, with food, water, and shelter, Prospect Park is an oasis for exhausted birds compelled to race north.
But migration isn’t just a physical thing. It’s also metaphoric.
Listening to the birds sing and call, and listening to whatever else our ears may reverberate with (woodpeckers tapping, squirrels screeching, the wind…), I’d like the participants to think of a migration of the senses. We will walk silently and listen intently. This isn’t about identifying birds, it’s about re-tuning our ears, listening to very old songs, and meditating on a sense too often subsumed by noise.
But we will be entering a park actually designed to cut down on the noise of the city. In a way, too, we will be migrating into the past, when the sounds of nature dominated the world.
Let’s open our ears wide.