Birds and Humans

ambience: dawn chorus, marsh

JM: Throughout history, we humans have been nurtured by birds in a number of ways.
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Naturalist and novelist Graeme Gibson.

GG: When we appeared as a self-conscious species, the world was filled with birds; it’s an ancient lineage, maybe 150,000,000 years. As we trudged over the plains or wherever it was in search of food, we would’ve been aware of the extraordinary apparent freedom of birds flying above us going much faster, appearing effortless, appearing to be free of gravity, and I think they must’ve filled us with wonder. They’re also relatively easy to catch and eat. During nesting season the eggs were there. We could find them. We could eat them. So, I think very early on, one, it was food, but it was also something else: we associated them with our spirit, we associated them with our imagination and with our longing. We still have phrases like, “a little bird told me.” I think that comes from, for example, from the fact that Odin, the great Norse god, had two ravens. One was called Thought, and one was called Memory. And they flew around the world all day and came back and whispered into his ear all that they had heard, and this was the source of the god’s power. And in Ecclesiastes in the Bible, there’s a wonderful phrase, “For a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter,” and so, that little, “a little bird told me,” comes back from an ancient tradition of what birds were and how they behaved and what they meant to us. They were the intermediaries between humans and the gods ’cause they could fly up into the air. Now, with the rise of science and the rise of practicality, much of which is a very good thing, we have tended to lose that. We’ve tended to cheapen the relationship into sentimentality rather than a genuine spiritual or imaginative relationship.

JM: Graeme Gibson is the author of The Bedside Book of Birds. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Birds and Humans

Naturalist Graeme Gibson muses on our ancient relationship with birds.
Air Date:05/31/2010
Scientist:
Transcript:

ambience: dawn chorus, marsh

JM: Throughout history, we humans have been nurtured by birds in a number of ways.
I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Naturalist and novelist Graeme Gibson.

GG: When we appeared as a self-conscious species, the world was filled with birds; it's an ancient lineage, maybe 150,000,000 years. As we trudged over the plains or wherever it was in search of food, we would've been aware of the extraordinary apparent freedom of birds flying above us going much faster, appearing effortless, appearing to be free of gravity, and I think they must've filled us with wonder. They're also relatively easy to catch and eat. During nesting season the eggs were there. We could find them. We could eat them. So, I think very early on, one, it was food, but it was also something else: we associated them with our spirit, we associated them with our imagination and with our longing. We still have phrases like, "a little bird told me." I think that comes from, for example, from the fact that Odin, the great Norse god, had two ravens. One was called Thought, and one was called Memory. And they flew around the world all day and came back and whispered into his ear all that they had heard, and this was the source of the god's power. And in Ecclesiastes in the Bible, there's a wonderful phrase, "For a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter," and so, that little, "a little bird told me," comes back from an ancient tradition of what birds were and how they behaved and what they meant to us. They were the intermediaries between humans and the gods 'cause they could fly up into the air. Now, with the rise of science and the rise of practicality, much of which is a very good thing, we have tended to lose that. We've tended to cheapen the relationship into sentimentality rather than a genuine spiritual or imaginative relationship.

JM: Graeme Gibson is the author of The Bedside Book of Birds. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.