Singing in the faux-dusk of LED streetlamps, two robins fling phrases back and forth. Each challenge in their musical duel is met with a rebuttal from the opposing bird, tauntingly similar in structure yet moving the duet on with new variations on the theme. This stream of sound, carrying gently through the descending drizzle, stops me in my tracks. I listen; the birds continue, the closest of them seemingly oblivious to my presence just a few meters from his song perch.
Much like the rainbow-tinted portal into another world that is a lacewing’s eye, or the sheer vibrancy of the green in a freshly unfurled leaf in spring, there’s no obvious reason that bird song need be so beautiful. Why should something with a seemingly simple biological purpose possess the power to transform a mundane place, sandwiched between an industrial kitchen and a car park, into a concert hall? Why should this slight, sweet sound produced by a tiny scrap of a syrinx cut so easily above the roar of traffic, London flight paths and the patter of rain? Why, on hearing it, do I feel such consolation, such peace, if only for a passing moment?
Those aren’t questions easily answered with any certainty. The beauty of nature remains a mystery, but one I’m content to live alongside. I can only speak for myself and say that I need it, even if I don’t understand why. Similarly, I can’t pretend to understand the person who could walk past a robin in song and not feel lifted.