Sometimes we wake to the steady bang-bang-banging above us. It’s hard to come around if you’ve been in deep sleep, but gradually the sound gets through, penetrates the night fog. It’s those rooks again, cackling from within the dense, still-green heart of our oak tree. They take over the autumn, the real survivors when all the dazzling, witty-winged high-fliers have gone back to southern climates. I love them. They are my favourite bird, definitely top of my ornithological tree! They’re so intent on this routine of acorn-pulling. We – or I – or my daughter – are gradually dragged awake by the hammering of beaks and acorns on the roof-tiles as they break the shell to release the fruit. Survive, survive! I near them hammer, as acorn after acorn splits open above our heads. It’s hard not to get mad at this early morning morse-code, hard not to fling the windows wide and clap my hands to shoo them on. Even then, the oak branches continue to twitch with these lovely foragers. The tree is thick with them, like black fruits themselves passing messages from nature. And the message is? Hell, something about live and live yet better, or to put it another way: she who cracks the green acorn for herself shall have sweetness on her tongue, the world returned to her belly, where it shall send down roots, and arch branches way beyond the span of her life!
I cannot help but see the rooks as harbingers – benevolent harbingers – watchful, eager, rough-throated scrawkers, curious about human doings as we move about the garden, putting rubbish in the hummus bin, feeding the dog. In an ideal paradise, I think I would have birds all around me, and none closer than crows in all their breeds, but most of all the faithful rook. When Yeats wrote in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ on his post-natural state (having been gathered into ‘the artifice of eternity’), he takes his bodily form not from any natural thing, ‘But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make/Of hammered gold and gold enamelling/To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;/Or set upon a golden bough to sing/To lords and ladies of Byzantium/Of what is past, or passing, or to come’. I know what he was getting at, I think, but whether it’s that I’m not yet old enough, or whether I believe that perfection lies IN the microcosmos that is within us and that surrounds us, I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than – once out of nature (i.e. dead) – being surrounded once again by all the elements of the natural world, so that the whole thing remains in its way, gyre-like, and repetitive, and part of an ongoing cycle of renewal.
In this part of Co. Kildare, the rook is king and queen. Swallows may come, House Martins may build their trogodytic mud nests in the garage or along the eaves, Blue Tits, Finches, Thrushes, Blackbirds and Pheasants all have their role in the cosmos of a country garden, but somehow Crow – Rook – Jackdaw – Raven – form the suit I’ll gamble with.