words & music © by Geoff Bartley 1986 & 1998
Published by Joshua Omar's Music BMI
All Rights Reserved
Sometimes on moonlit nights I drive the empty highways fast with my lights out. The danger taps me and the night just opens up. I think I could drive straight through to the Mississippi river or the Nazca plains. There is no impedance and I feel connected to every destination on the two continents; night flying, night flying north from Cape Cod over this two-lane resort highway.
And I think of migrating birds that routinely travel thousands of miles; the Canadian geese I grew up with on the Tred Avon for instance, or the blackbirds we'd see in the fall, headed for Texas, peppering the sky in a great flying tube clear in either direction to the horizons, the noise of them drowning out my radio.
Or this sanderling I read about, a little beachcomber related to the sandpiper; an eight-inch-long, five-and-a half-ounce beating heart that flies fifty miles an hour, thirty-five hours at a stretch, two miles up in the thin air, over a grand total of fourteen thousand miles from the treeless Arctic down the face of the Americas to the coasts of Patagonia and Australia, Chile and Peru. Wintering on these old beaches they get fat on fish eggs. The Humbolt Current sweeps up from the Southern Ocean teeming with herring, tuna, bonito, dorado, barracuda... and a million fish eggs get stranded on the sand. It's a fabulous, continuous bird feast.
And when the sun swings north in June they head home to the exploding Arctic summer: pools of melted frost soups of wriggling life; stands of dwarf willow out of which two caribou suddenly rise; enormous expanses of moss, sedgegrass, tussocks, broken earth, insects everywhere; vast miles of vaporing ice age tundra racing absolutely without obstacle straight to the pole.
The eyes begin to drown in the distances; the air is dustless, the cleanest air in the world. Wolves follow the herds of caribou moving fast and quiet like part of a dream. If you didn't look up, you might not note their passing. And the sky can go black in an instant, the animals are gone and a wind will kick up that sweeps everything from the sky, even the crows. Night flying! Night flying!
What must it be like for those sanderlings, quick shadows in the blackness ten-thousand feet up over Saskatchewan? Someone at a night telescope might see them as fine grit streaming across the face of the moon. How do they find their way? Landmarks? Bits of iron in the blood acting like a compass? Faint pheromones wafted a thousand miles from the nesting grounds? Lifting out of cloud cover with the emptylands laid out below in dim fire, do they, like the dolphins, take their bearings from the Pleiades and the Great Bear? Rivers become threads of beaten steel seen from so high up. Mountains are heavy presences to push the wings against. There is no impedance; cock a wing and the planet rolls over.
An old heedfulness seems to work in these birds, a memory as ancient as the carbon and salt in the blood, the migration chant laid in as the bird race began, grafted to the pre-dinosaurs. And they do not get lost, though fierce weather may bring them down out of the sky like stones, frozen solid between wingbeats. But they are not lost. They arrive safe and whole, to land and to rest, to scratch in the permafrost and nest beside the glacial moraines.
Tom Lewis; drums & percussion
Steve Adams; two tracks of alto flute
Robert Rutman; bow chime (This bow chime is... was... a four-by-eight-foot piece of sheet metal
suspended on a steel frame, with tuning rods, played mostly with a cello bow, that sounds variously
like a synthesizer, or a pod of whales, or the earth cracking open, or... ? At some points, I struck and
scraped it with a quarter. Robert Rutman is a multi-media artist who lived in Central Square,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I knew him. Last I heard, he was living in Berlin. ~ Geoff )
Geoff; spoken vocal, 1971 Martin D-35 in standard tuning, capo 2, A, G, F, and E minor chords
Shortly after this album was re-issued on CD, we came about this close to having the Massachusetts Audubon Society offer a CD of Sanderlings as a gift premium for new subscribers. ~ Geoff