The Third Fall

When I wrote ‘The Fall. THE FALL and the Apple’, I only thought of two Falls that were part of my personal story.

There is another, however, one which I have only been introduced to since living in the UK. One I witnessed yesterday, and only the third time in such a spectacular fashion. But this time there was a difference, for in the middle of the experience I connected it to the other two Falls, and it too was connected to apples for it occurred within the mysterious realm of Avalon, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.

This third Fall is that which occurs at the end of a Starling Murmuration sequence.

We were at RSPB Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels. I had spent the day indoors at a meeting nearby whilst my partner explored the reserve, and he brought me there after he picked me up to share what he had discovered. During the day it had gone from sunny and bright to overcast and windy, eventually adding mizzle to the mix.

We walked down to the big hide and back in a cold wind, waiting for the Starlings to come in for the night. I had seen the murmuration there before, from a distance, with a friend who works for the RSPB, a couple of years ago. I had also seen it when out on the Levels many years ago, also from quite a distance the big sky the sky dancers stage. My partner had never had the experience, seen the display.

At the time posted on the notice board at the RSPB building on site, the Starlings began to arrive. Last evening was different from the previous times I had seen the massed dance, from a distance. I had heard the beating of hundreds of wings swooping over my head. I had watched them turn and swirl and wheel, seen masses of starlings blacken part of the sky and then open up into a loose mass. This time was different.

What I had never seen up close was want happens when the aerobatic display ends: what happens after The Fall.

The Starlings rise and drop several times on the way to the reedbed to roost, but the final act in the aerial ballet, The Fall, I had not witnessed up close. The reedbed was swarming with Starlings. Literally thousands and thousands of them. This sort of display only happens in late Autumn and Winter.

There are no adequate words to describe the spectacle. The entire reedbed roiled and quivered, the chittering was incessant, the sound of the thousands of pairs of wings continued to beat as the mass settled for the night, which took time; it was not a rushed settling in, settling down. Some of the birds stopped to take a bath or have a drink. The reedbed was thick and dark with Starlings as small groups continued to move back and forth. Even when it appeared the space could hold no more, overhead another huge group would arrive from behind us churning and whirling, and then another from the right, over the trees. Fall after Fall after Fall. More and more Starlings arriving.

I could feel the intensity of whatever drove these amazing birds to seek the place of their night’s roosting, the place they would shelter for the night. I wondered who choose the site for the night, of all the various reedbeds on the Levels, wondered why they all came to the one in front of us at Ham Wall. I wondered how they all knew when the gathering was taking place. I was curious how come there were always a few stragglers who came in at the very last. I wondered how they got separated from their group. I wondered if a raptor got to any who were late and not part of the massed sky dance.

So many questions. And, I suppose I could find some of the reasons behind this behaviour; for now, however, I am content not to have the answers. The mystery is fine, essential still. The mystery is part of the magic of experience.

I would love to see the morning rising, and am sure I will manage to do so one day. In the meantime I am left to ponder this Fall, the third Fall, its deeper meaning and its lessons.

Leaves fall from trees in the Autumn. Sap rises in the Spring after the trees Winter rest bringing trees back to life, reawakened. Starlings fall from the sky into the reedbeds to rest for the night. In the morning they awaken and rise to begin their daily cycle again.

Mystery. Wonder. Connection. Awe.

For all the words I have written here, I was speechless last evening. Clearly, to me, the marker of a deep and profound spiritual experience.

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The Fall, THE FALL and the Apple

There are two different understandings of ‘The Fall’ that have influenced my life and my understanding of life.

One is a theological construct that I have jettisoned and the other a reality in the natural world which I have always embraced with a bittersweet sense of joy and wonder. And then there is The Apple, which plays a significant part in each understanding.

The Fall as a theological construct was drummed into me from the time I was an infant. The story of Adam and Eve, the Garden, the Serpent and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the myth that for Christians made Jesus inevitable to redeem humans (and everything else, everywhere else) from the theologically championed Fall from grace that the incident with the serpent and the apple supposedly initiated.

I was not brought up being taught that this was a myth, or a mythic way of explaining the human condition. I was taught that Adam and Eve were real people, and everything else about the story of the Fall, as it were, fell into place from that understanding.

Needless to say, I no longer subscribe to that understanding, nor the faith the taught it to me.

But THE FALL is still an important part of my life, and this other FALL ran in parallel with the theological one all my life. The other FALL is that which happens in the Autumn. Where I grew up in the US, Autumn is called Fall, but THE FALL is when the trees shed their leaves. Autumn is so much more. It is the time squirrels and chipmunks and other creatures cache food for the Winter ahead, when bears and hedgehogs feed up before the hibernation. It is the time when people change wardrobes by putting away light coloured and lightweight dresses and shorts and bring out the woolly jumpers, hats and mittens in preparation for the cold to come.

It is the time that the apples ripen and are picked. When the harvest of this amazing fruit floods the farmers’ markets and roadside stands. It is the time to make applesauce and apple cakes, press and pasteurise apple juice, and tend to the orchards.

Apples fall in THE FALL. The falling of apples and leaves is an event in which to rejoice. It means that Nature and the natural world still maintain some sense of order and rightness.

The Fall of Adam and Eve, so called, to say nothing of the religion that is supposed to be its remedy, has led to misery and guilt for two millennia. THE FALL of Autumn cyclically brings home the reminder life and death are conjoined in a process as old as being itself; of fruit and harvest and plenty, and also scarcity and privation when the harvest is meagre. The Apple plays a role in both these stories.

One story is totally bound up the humans and is for humans. The other is Nature’s story and links together all living beings in the environmental web in its due season. One is a story of shame and loss of childish innocence. The other story is one of glorious colours and sweetness to savour, of the opportunity to experience the world around one with childlike wonder.

So now I celebrate THE FALL and rejoice in the Autumn that brings with it really of release and the reminder to prepare for the Winter, without which, lest we forget, there would be no Spring.