Almanac For Moderns: The Voice At Midnight

June Fourth
I waited for them at the bottom of the hill, listening to the sounds in the hot night that had no intention of trying to sleep before the stroke of midnight. There was the distant hum and outcry of machines on the highway, which is now become, by a modern paradox, the most human of sounds. Beneath it ran the thirsty chanting of the insects in the dried grass. And listening, I heard more birds’ voices than one would suppose. There were sleepy outcries from birds I could not guess–robins and catbirds, I think–and the calling of the whippoorwill somewhere three hills and dales away. Sometimes the song sparrow or the field sparrow spoke out suddenly from sleep, as if a dream had half awakened him. Then a voice arose–not drowsily or in petulance or fear–but in a genuine song, repeated at intervals, the canticle of some bird who was accustomed to sing vespers, and was at this best then, as the thrush sings best in twilight or the nightingale by moonlight. 

Presently my friends came along. I heard their laughter and it fell like broken glass on the solid darkness. The bird fell silent, and I went along with them, regretting the singer, and the moment I knew I should never forget, when I stood in the darkness by the spring, listening for the first time to some bird that was new to me.

More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.