I think I’ve always wanted there to be magic in the world. I’m sure as a child I would have dreamed there was something that could be called upon to change my life. If I could only discover it or find the right clue that would lead me to the place where it existed, then everything would be perfect.
The type of magic I was looking for and the type of magic that exists in the world have very little to do with each other. It wasn’t until I was much older that I faced up to the fact that there are no magic wands we can wave to whisk us away when we wish.
Bad things happen to children, adults have to deal with their problems, and each of us is forced to bear the burden of our responsibilities. The avoidance techniques we do have are far less wholesome than broomsticks and only delay the inevitable. In spite of these reality checks I’ve managed to keep a tenacious hold on my belief in magic.
Maybe it was because I worked in theatre for a period of time, and in some ways we created magic each time we gave a performance. There’s always been something about the theatre that is somewhat magical, perhaps because of it’s previous association with traveling shows during the renaissance, or it’s even earlier associations with the god Dionysus. What else would you call it when a person becomes someone else before your very eyes, if not magic?
No matter the reasons, I am as certain of magic’s existence as I am of being dependent on oxygen for survival. Does that make you uncomfortable to hear a supposedly rational man admit that he believes in magic? Well I can’t say that I blame you; I have a fairly good idea how ridiculous that sounds. Like some new age psychobabble, I ‘m sure I sound like I’m leading up to some stupid talk about guardian angels or something equally nauseating.
Fear not, it’s nothing to do with guardian angels. Whether you consider it new age psychobabble is another thing I guess, but that is something we’ll all have to live with. Those of you who wince with embarrassment when you read this, will consider yourselves the most martyred I’m sure, but I think I’ve given fair warning and you’ve had plenty of time to turn aside so you’ve only yourself to blame.
I don’t think anyone really needs to worry that much because the magic I’m going to talk about is readily available to anyone with eyes and ears, willing to use those senses, and keep their mouth shut for a short period of time. In other words, using your powers of observation, not just making observations.
Walk down almost any block in a residential neighbourhood and you’ll see at least one or two front lawns adorned with some sort of ornamental hedge or shrubbery. As you approach from down the street, and if you are paying attention, you may notice a fair amount of activity going on within and around the piece of topiary. The air is full of small, feathered bodies of sparrows and the sound of their excited voices.
As soon as you get to within two feet of the bush it’s as if something has pulled a plug. All the bird sound stops and nothing is moving. If you were to only give a causal glance as you walked by, you’d wonder where they all could have dispersed? There’s only one or two visible now.
If you look closely you can see them all perched on the branches that shouldn’t support even their weight. They are stock-still and not a sound can be heard save the occasional “peep” which is quickly hushed. Continue on only for a few feet and the air is once again filled with sound. A quick glance over your shoulder reveals the action you had interrupted has continued as if it had never been interrupted.
If you were to continue to walk and head out onto a main street, you’ll be grateful to see that because there are few buildings taller than four stories high, the sky is laid out for you like an expanse of ocean – except that no sea on this planet could be that colour of blue or contain clouds that tower in quite that manner.
For just a second you see why the Hopi of the South West say the Kachina spirits live in a mountain range in the sky. It appears to be running on a diagonal over your head, magnificent piles of solid white flecked with grey. Streaming off to the side are the insubstantial veils that the sun is using to partially shield his face with today.
The unexpected sound of bus engine engaging almost pulls you back to the earth, but out of the corner of your eye you see a ballet group of pigeons take flight in their tight spiral formation. Twenty, thirty, maybe even forty of them are attempting to scale the heights of the sky momentarily. As if they are attached to a string or are bound not to climb further, they invert the motion that took them aloft and settle back onto the roof they had been roosting on a moment before.
All the way down the street as far as you can see, the same pattern is repeated as group after group respond to the flight of the one prior in line. Wave after wave crests against the lower breakwater of the sky before returning to their point of origin until all you see are black specks at the far end of your vision.
Continuing to walk you veer back away from the traffic onto another residential street and from nowhere appears a flock of starlings to settle in a tree some twenty feet from you. There is no way of knowing how many of them there are, only that they blacken the tree and the sounds of their voices are a cacophony that mysteriously attracts no one else’s attention.
At some unseen signal they lift off as one unit. If the pigeons were a dance troupe, the starlings are a brigade on parade ground formation, so sharp and tight are their turns and precise in their intent. This is no mere reaction flight; it is a deliberate maneuver that lifts the whole flock to their next feeding location or roost.
Ask yourself how can the sparrows know when to turn on and off; how do the pigeons take off into those spirals every time; and most especially how does a flock of starlings obey such precise movement commands?
In our pre-rational days, when we didn’t look to science for every explanation and when we were dependent on the generosity of the planet’s bounty for survival, we believed in the spirits of the game we hunted and that the earth beneath our feet was a living breathing entity. In spite of our new ability to offer reasonable solutions to puzzles like those I’ve posed above, I can’t help but wonder if we might not have been on the right track all along in our “primitive” times.
You can offer me any number of words of scientific explanation, but they won’t quiet the feeling inside of me that when I watch these occurrences, I’m witnessing a type of magic that goes beyond anything a human being could hope to create. It may not be exactly what I hoped for as a child, but it does the trick now every time.