I know it sounds absolutely mind blowing, but I actually did sing with a robin & I have a feeling that once I tell you my story, you might be able to converse with the robins in your life, too.
Alison (my hearing assistant) & I, were in the Garth Gell Rainforest near Dollgellau, in North Wales. I was making recordings for my CÂN Y COED Sound Sculpture Commission. We'd been right up to the top of the rainforest ... it's quite a climb, but worth it.
I had set up my equipment, so as to digitalise the inner biorhythms of trees, converting their conductivity into digital & visual sound, so that later on, in my studio, I could compose tree-led music from these readings. At lunchtime, I took a break & joined Alison for a picnic, where, to our delight, a robin came to sit with us
It is common knowledge that robins are territorial & also that they are friendly to warm blooded mammals, but actually being in the presence of this little bird for about half an hour, was simply magical.
However, I wanted to record the evensong on our way back to the cabin before it fell dusk, so we packed up & went down to the stream.
When we got there, it was silent. If you have read my blog about my residency at Coed Elan Valley Rainforest, you'll know we found out that bird chorus is in layers of conversations between birds, rather than random & on this occasion, no one was kicking off the chat.
Jokingly, I said to Alison, 'Shall I begin the evensong?' 'Go on then, ' she chuckled, & just for fun, I whistled into the trees - & to my astonishment, I got a reply! We couldn't believe it. I carried on my whistle conversation whilst slipping my hand into my holdall to reach for my digi-recorder & captured a good part of the conversation, which you are welcome to listen to, there is a snippetbelow - but off course, after such wonder, I wanted to know, who had I been talking to?
When we got home to West Wales, I contacted Bruce Langridge from the National Botanic Garden of Wales to ask him about my conversation with a robin & he put me in touch with ornithologist Dan Rouse. What she told me, was unbelievable ...
An ornithologist studies & specilaises in the science of birds. Dan very kindly met with me on Zoom & I played her my full recording. To my amazement, the different birdsong in reponse to my whistles was coming from the same bird; a European robin. Turns out that a robin has different types of call - the short ones at the start are to sound me out, to see who I am, foe or friend, do I pose a threat? - & then once the robin decides I am ok, the next tunefall calls are known as 'sub-song' - Dan says this is 'a friendly chat'! Well, heavens to betsy! That mean I was standing in a rainforest having a friendly chat with a robin! Life doesn't get much better than that, does it?
I asked Dan could it be possible that this robin was the one that was with us at lunchtime & she replied, yes, because it would have been within his territory ... Now, when we got to the bottom of the rianforest, I had another encounter with a robin and Dan thinks this is likely to be the same one again. He was singing down from the tree & then came onto the wall beside me. We looked at each other for so long, that I became tearful. It was a spiritual experience.
When I explained this to Dan, she told me about Nordic folkore. For centuries it has been believed the robin can sense grief & is a connection to loved ones on 'the other side'. This really made sense in terms of what was happening in my peronal life. A close family member took ill that very day & subsequently, passed away. Once again, the rainforests unearth the most connected & beautifully suprising treasures. As humans, we think our voices are the most important, that only we can converse, & yet, in the depths of the forest, I have found that trees talk with each other, birds conversing, birds and trees talk to one another, & in fact, we, as humans, can join in.