To make an end is to make a beginning
Well, folks, I did it. Granted, somewhat behind my original schedule, but nonetheless I’ve made it. Despite our currently Californian (?) weather, I blitzed it over the weekend and got the last robin measured up on Saturday afternoon. I even had a cup of caffinated coffee to celebrate, taking it out onto the front grass to make even more of it. There you go. No more looking at spectrograms, except in my dreams (yes, I do dream about them). No more straining to get the measurements exact. No more cursing the perfect song interrupted by another bird. It’s only taken me two years. But I have them. Nine species. Approx 20 individuals per species. Not to mention all the attrition it took to get those 180+ birds, 180+ playback experiments, all the ‘useless’ recordings hibernating for me to, maybe, oneday, find a use for them. Months in the field. Months of dawnrising. Months of sleepdeprived driving the country. Months of joy, actually, hunting for my prey, getting so close to them, getting to know them. As Niko Tinbergen (from Curious Naturalists) said (about digger-wasps, all things, so the transference is not specific to creatures of our own, or more closely related, class – in the taxonomic sense): “they were transformed into personal acquaintances, whose lives … became affairs of personal interest and concern to me”.
Then, now just over, months and months of getting to know the songs so well, I see their patterns in my dreams, hear their sound whenever I let my mind wander. Assessing, counting, measuring, calculating, checking, verifying. Excel sheets mutating, expanding, proliferating, such multitudes and variety, they’re almost as overwhelming as a full-on dawn chorus.
However, now I have to make the leap fully into the abstract. Now I have to fire all engines ahead with my statistical analysis. I must leave the personal, the animate, the individuals, long and far behind and delve into the patterns of numbers that their songs have made. As one of my supervisors would say, now the fun really starts. I’ve made a good headway into the preliminary statistical analysis already, and there are some interesting things emerging. And it’s fun, and exciting, and a totally different way of losing yourself to that of being in the field. A different kind of forest to find my way through. This too demands work, but also patience. Waiting to see. Who knows what will emerge into the clearing.
“.. make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”
(TS Eliot. Little Gidding).