Birds have been much on my mind since revisiting Anne Lamotts’ inspirational book, Bird by Bird, on Improvised Life, especially now that the New Year has come and gone, scattering in its wake a litter of broken resolutions. How is it possible that so many thoughtfully-strategized good intentions have fled my newly-reordered spiritual house already, and the year yet a month old?

Peter Malone
Peter Malone
I was lashing myself about this disheartening state of affairs when my studio skylights suddenly filled with hundreds of black and white birds. Crows and sea gulls wheeled overhead, casting eerie shadows. Oddly, for such raucous creatures, they were completely silent.
I pushed open the back gate to find a grinning, disheveled man in the middle of the alley holding a big white plastic cross over his head.
He was standing at the epicenter of the spiralling birds, which tightened their circle to form a perfect “O” before settling down quietly
on nearby rooftops, fences and trash cans.
I stared. He laughed. A strange, small whirlwind arose, danced, and twisted in the middle of the street, curling around us where we stood.
Christopher Thomond for The Guardian
Christopher Thomond for The Guardian
“Feel that wind? That’s Jehovah’s breath,” he said. “I can call Him down. He taught me to talk to the animals.”
The birds gathered closer, glistening white and glossy black. “We’re all the same to Him. He forgives us all, good and evil,
black and white, human or animal. There’s room for us all in His ark.”
He turned and shambled away down the alley, stopping briefly to call over his shoulder, “Don’t you forget that. Have a blessed New Year.”
In one mass, the birds rose and took flight, whirling up into the sky like a great plume of smoke, as silently as they’d arrived. I watched him until he turned the corner and disappeared.
Richard Hammerton/GuardianWitness
Richard Hammerton/GuardianWitness
Was he a madman? Was he sent? Or was it just a weird, urban coincidence: a spooky little drama that happens every day if you live in a big city?
No matter. He was right. The blessing of the New Year is that it offers us another chance to forgive our trespassers. Just as important; it reminds us to once again to begin by forgiving… ourselves.
Note: My encounter was so unexpected that I missed the chance to photograph ‘my’ birds. Serendipitously, an email arrived with a link to
the Guardian describing the starling murmuration season from October to March in the UK, during which thousands of starlings take to
the skies at sunset, swirling in masses before settling to roost in the reed beds and marshes. The photographs sent in by their readers are proof of the mysterious enchantment of birds.
gif via Hedviggen

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